Saturday, 13 September 2014

Stranger by the Lake, Let's Talk About You

So, guess what I watched the other day? Stranger by the Lake (or L'inconnu du lac, for all y'all intellectual types), yes, you're right! Wait, how'd you know? Get out my flat.

Stranger by the Lake (2013) Poster
No witty caption today, I actually really like this poster.
So I was going to write a semi-meaningful introduction about how Stranger by the Lake, directed by Alain Guiraudie, was pulling in pretty impressive reviews, like critics from The Observer, The Guardian and The Telegraph slapping four stars on the top of their reviews, but then I got distracted by this little gem on IMDb:


Which is more relevant to the film than just me being immature, I assure you! But more on that later. I will apologise now for a potential lack of screenshots (or possibly strange/vague pictures), because most of them would definitely not be safe for work. But anyway, let's get this show on the road!

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...
So, Stranger by the Lake is set over ten consecutive days in, by and near a lake which acts as a cruising spot for gay men. Enter our main character, Franck, portrayed by Pierre Deladonchamps. Franck is a very quiet but friendly man, slim and handsom who doesn't exactly have trouble meeting men at the lake he frequently visits. He also strikes up a friendship with Henri, an older, straight, overweight man who spends his days sitting by the lake. I thought their friendship was really sweet - it's clear Henri is very lonely and when Franck reaches out to him, it gives him a reason to continue returning to the lake since he didn't have any reasons previously - he wasn't picking up men to have sex with in the woods and he doesn't swim either.

Now we enter Michel, played by Christophe Paou (I swear, writing reviews about French films takes four times longer than usual due to constantly spell checking all the names). Michel is the ultimate representation of sex appeal - oozing with charisma and good looks to spare. Guiraudie said the he was looking for an actor who looked like they could be a California surfer, and he hit that look on the head casting Paou; he's like a mid-1980's era gay centrefold come to life. Franck falls in love and falls hard. It's at this point where it almost becomes like a love triangle between Henri, Franck and Michel. Henri represents the emotional connection between two people and Michel, the purely physical side, as any mention of relationships or activities that fall outside of the lake, he instantly shoots down. Conversation, or mad fucking? I think we can all guess where Franck lands in that choice.

However, as the relationship sparks, we witness Michel committing a horrible crime in the lake. We also witness Franck witnessing this (No-one witnesses Franck witness us witnessing Muchel's crime though). Cue screaming at Franck the rest of the film to run the fuck away. However he's blinded by the irresistible pull that Michel has on him. Franck knows the depths of potential of danger within Michel, but he wants to explore further. I feel like Deladonchamps did an excellent job of portraying this internal conflict within Franck, and thus is summed up wonderfully by the tagline in Hitchcocks Spellbound - "Will he kiss me ... or kill me?". This isn't the first time Stranger by the Lake (Ben - Or the first French movie) has been likened to the works of Hitchcock, even down to some of the shots being considered as an unmistakable homage to the film maker.

"Do I have something on my face?"
Franck and Michel's relationship is put under the microscope when the authorities are brought in to investigate the crime at the lake. Inspector Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte), arrives on the scene, unsmiling and ready to arrest someone. However he runs into a roadblock - arriving by the lake, he confronts men who are heavily into voyeurism, figuring that someone must have seen something. However what he failed to consider was that the infamous lake is a place where men go to shed their day to day identities. They become nameless, contactless, anonymous individuals. It sounds like they are giving the fakest alibi's in history when confronted by the Inspector, "Who were you with?", "I don't know their name.", "Can you point him out to me?", "He's not here." Yeah, right. As you can imagine, to the investigation this is very frustrating. I shan't divulge any more details on the matter in case of cries of spoilers - all the stuff I've written so far can be gleamed from the various other reviews and summaries of the film, so don't worry your little heads.

I thought the way the film presented itself was very interesting as well. To address the elephant in the review: the nudity. After the first twenty minutes of the film, the nudity feels normal pretty quickly. It's frank and without taboo, Guiraudie even goes to the lengths of hiring body doubles so he can feature obscured shots of oral sex and an ejaculating penis (goodbye prosthetic vaginas of Blue is the Warmest Color, you've been topped!). Yeah, maybe not one to watch with the parents, extremely graphic sex scenes n' all, because it certainly doesn't stop there. The director admitted to flirting with the idea of hiring porn actors as the lead actors; however he couldn't get strong enough acting from them and opted just to have them as body doubles, which I think is fair enough.

Another thing I found interesting was the sound in the film. There is no music in the film - neither diegetic or nondiegetic. Like I said earlier, the course of the film spills over ten consecutive days and each day is clearly defined. Everything is very real. Like, almost disturbingly real. Which is a smart move all in all, because it definitely ups the ante of real, close to home fear when things start to get out of hand. 

Stranger By the Lake
Don't those trees look nice?
I really enjoyed this movie. It's a definitely a masterclass in how to use a location to it's fullest potential. I know a few people had some gripes with the ending, but I personally thought it was great. My only issue is with the fact that they all sit butt-naked on rocks and stones and stuff. That must hurt! Anyway, going to wrap things up there. Till next week!

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