Monday, February 3, 2014

Stranger by the Lake

Alain Guiraudie's approach to the men cruising for gay sex along an unspecified French lakeshore in "Stranger by the Lake" is purely anthropological, and on this occasion I mean that in a good way.

While we may be struck by the extent to which these men compartmentalize sex, separate from love and the unseen rest of their lives, not for Guiraudie such questions of context. He simply observes - without adding musical cues - their mating habits, the ways in which they mark their territory, and the like. He focuses about half of his runtime on the sweet and slender Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who begins to fall for the rugged brunet Michel (Christophe Paou) even after seeing Michel drown his then-boyfriend in the lake. 

I especially enjoyed Franck's relaxed conversations with the middle-aged, recently divorced and big-bellied Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), who in turn falls for him. Guiraudie builds an exceptionally strong sense of place by letting days drift into nights and back again without delineation; after ten days, we really feel we know this spot of aquamarine beauty and raw sex in the shadows. There are also moments of genuine humor, as when one misaligned fellow asks where the horny women are, vowing he's seen them here before, or when a pudgy serial masturbator sucks Franck off, then says, "I've got to get going," and extends his hand for a handshake. I think Guiraudie errs, though, with the extreme violence near the end; these characters - including a non-judgmental yet persistent detective (Jérôme Chappatte) -- deserve better, and it feels like he didn't know what else to do.

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