Stranger by the Lake
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Summertime. A cruising spot for men, tucked away on the shores of a lake. Franck falls in love with Michel, an attractive, potent and lethally dangerous man. Franck knows this, but wants to live out his passion anyway.
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★★★★★ review by nathaxnne walker on Letterboxd
Immediate, tactile, hypnotic, suffused with the pull of desire and the heartache of loneliness, of still being in your beachwear and towel after dusk has set and passed, all the residual warmth of the day gone yet retained in memory because it was RIGHT THERE, the sun, fainter and farther away than it should be, later in the year than it seems, the end of summer looming yet still plausibly denied, the sun not just in the sky but upon you, upon everything long enough to imbue everything with its solarity, everything reflecting off of everything, a little too radiant to look at directly except under the influence of a passing shoal of cloud when the wind kicks up a chill, easily dismissed.
'Stranger By The Lake' is everything I want in an 'erotic arthouse thriller', but arrayed on its own terms into an entirely unique configuration. I don't know, it reminds me a little of Ozon, a little of Breillat, but not really like either. It is driven by a desire so strong it is distributed into everything: the trees, the grasses, the rocks, the water, the men standing and lounging and sunbathing and making love and gazing off into space. Amor Fati is first love, and then fated, and then fatal, but not in the necessarily expected ways, as love so often is. 'Stranger By The Lake' is tense and chilling and totally erotic and warm and funny and cute and emotive. It takes time to properly sketch all of its characters over the course of the film, bit by bit, through action and talk. Each day begins and ends at the lake, starting in morning and ending past nightfall, within the opening and closing of the day upon the lake, which is the cruising lake, or the cruising half of the lake, all that takes place under the sun and after it, does. I love this movie. Fullest recommendations.
★★★½ review by davidehrlich on Letterboxd
(aka White Is the Warmest Color aka Mysterious Swim): compelling study of runaway desire, both inviting & oblique / explicit & sterile. potentially a landmark event in queer cinema, perhaps depending on the size of the audience it reaches. either way, i do wish this were a touch less elusive... the fat guy was the only character who was ever revealed beyond his lusts.
★★★★½ review by Eli Hayes on Letterboxd
One of the most unique films I've ever seen, bridging the gap between art-house dramatic thriller and adult film. Beautiful and daring, Stranger by the Lake is one of the finest films of 2013, and also one of the few films that I'd describe as being in a class of its own.
★★★½ review by Vadim Rizov on Letterboxd
Accustomed as I've grown to Guiraudie's near-frenetic fantasies of dreams taking ambiguous hold in the real world, polymorphous sexual reinvention and unapologetic queerness in a pastoral setting, a bit of a shock to see him working in a more sober-minded mode — not "the first film of mine that has a linear narrative," he's observed, "more the first film to have a linear sense of suspense." I miss the crazy baroque convolutions, but maybe it's for the best before he coined another 15 words for imaginary concepts and lapsed into schtick.
The woods were a more inviting site for play in Time Has Come and The King Of Escape; the trees here seem closer together, denser copses that serve as shelters for copulation but also potential ambush sites. A long way from the Slow Arboreal Cinema of changing patterns and overlaps of trees passed in tracking shots; Guiraudie's locked down into a more static observational mode. It's visibly warm and welcoming on a beach that's wide open even when it's dark, but the woods slide down a scale from unambiguous/innocuous lust to homicidal menace.
Because the lake and beach are so pleasant to look at (and because the relationship between Patrick D'Assumçao's solitary Henri and Pierre Deladonchamps' more insouciantly comfortable Franck is such an unforcedly platonic delight), the last-minute shift into total suspense is breathtakingly absolute and out of nowhere (offhand, the only comparably abrupt other instances coming to mind are Kiarostami's The Wedding Suit and Like Someone In Love). If a lot of slow cinema in the woods has been something like ambient music — soothing, enveloping, detail-oriented but not requiring total attention moment to moment — this is a low key album whose last track logically builds on what came before but couldn't be anticipated the first time through.
The introduction of Inspector Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte) raises some interesting questions. The investigating officer's total lack of acquaintance with cruising etiquette requires him to ask a number of disbelieving questions that could sound like blinkered straight moralizing (You don't know the names of the people you have sex with? How is this possible?) The appeal of a closed gay safe space with no regard for accommodating or explaining the rules to straight male/female outsiders is clear even setting aside what's often reported as France's normative homophobia (which makes the necessity of such a space even more obvious). It's nice not to have to constantly explain the rules to others and just interact with others who Get It. Since life itself makes this impossible as a 24/7 reality, how are social/sexual bridges gapped? Does "tolerance" require a minimum exchange of information about potentially irreconcilable normative mores? To what extent does creating a closed social ecosystem allow toxins to proliferate unchecked? How much self-policing is possible, and how can perhaps inherently hostile forces of authority be bargained with to create a mutually acceptable relationship?
★★★★ review by Edgar Cochran on Letterboxd
Subdued, trapped in its own perdition, set in an "Eden" of sin, carnal perdition, loneliness and the need to be loved in a naturally beautiful landscape contaminated by corruption, the feature's sexuality is suffocating in its portrayal of the dark side of human nature that by no means dehumanizes these souls due to their sexual orientation, but constructs a thriller with human fibers out of a whole array of social outcasts not thematically demonized by society in the film, but shockingly in the need of human comprehension. Amidst the sin, blood and death lie humane conversations about the need of companionship, the need to be loved, the material need to go back to work and the emotional escapism it represents to seclude yourself from civilization in order to contemplate the forgotten and often more than obfuscated side of God's untouched creation.
Shot with pristine audiovisual majesty like only France, Austria and Iceland know how to do best (other countries do apply though), the film's imagery invades the senses and questions the irrationality of being attached to a dangerous relationship due to the emotional voids it fills despite the blatantly obvious danger that such relationship entangles in its development. It is a film about self destruction, emotional emptiness and irrationality of a group of men that try to counter-attack these demons with other demons that lead to no other destination than to the literal darkness of the conclusion. It is not a romance film in my eyes; it is a self-destructive drama with thriller overtones featuring shooting locations that plenty of U.S. directors during the slasher era of the 80s had but didn't know how to capture properly and without a purpose as humanly solid as the arguments presented here.
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