Stranger by the Lake (4 stars)

Stranger by the Lake

Alain Guiraudie's gay cruising thriller is an unusual and intelligent film

A mixed-up tone is customarily a negative trait in a film, but here the combination of gentle comedy, racy sex and murder works extraordinarily well, delivering a sophisticated, unpredictable and original modern noir. Pierre Deladonchamps plays Franck, a sweet young gay man who gets his kicks amid friendly strangers at a lakeside cruising spot. When the idyll of anonymous sex is disrupted by an act of extreme violence, the reaction of Michel (Christophe Paou) is unexpected: rather than fleeing the danger, he obeys an instinct that draws him ever closer to its source, and the film’s atmosphere shifts from sunlit sex comedy to shadowy erotic thriller.

Without ever seeming prurient or punitive towards the sexual subculture he is portraying, writer/director Alain Guiraudie thoughtfully interrogates the mysterious appeal of risky sexual connections, the nature of intimacy and blurred lines that separate sexual identities, practices and preferences. This is especially true of Franck’s blunt conversations with a straight onlooker (Patrick d’Assumçao) who claims to visit cruising locations just for the conversation, and an investigating detective (Jérôme Chappatte) who can’t understand why the happy couples in the shrubbery don’t exchange phone numbers.

The atmosphere of unfussy upfrontness thus established, aided by wonderfully crisp cinematography by Claire Mathon, renders the horror that intrudes all the more shocking and troubling, while the highly sympathetic performances succeed in making concern for the characters real.

Some will balk at the sex, which leaves almost nothing to the imagination; but the explicitness arguably forms an important dimension of a story that continually contrasts carnal with emotional closeness, attraction with affection, and what the body feels with what the mind understands. One hopes in any case that trepidation over a little erotic content won’t prevent a wide audience from experiencing such an unusual and intelligent film.

Limited release from Fri 21 Feb.

Stranger by the Lake (2013) - Official Trailer

Stranger by the Lake

  • 4 stars
  • 2013
  • France
  • 1h 40min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Alain Guiraudie
  • Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumçao
  • UK release: 21 February 2014

Thriller set around a lake in southern France that acts as a cruising spot for men.