Sink or Swim
Love on the rocks in ‘Stranger by the Lake’
by Jack Berger
For those who are familiar with outdoor cruising spots, Stranger by the Lake, now out on DVD and Blu-ray, will bring back memories of Houston’s Memorial Park back in the day, or Tom Braniff Park in Dallas—but with a lot more intrigue and suspense.
Stranger by the Lake (L’Inconnu du lac) played in theaters in more than 30 U.S. markets after winning the Queer Palm and Best Director in the 2013 Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival. It was also an official selection for the Sundance Film Festival, as well as the international festivals in Toronto and New York.
Alain Guiraudie sets his film entirely in one location, making it feel like a Hitchcock thriller. We see only the parking area, the rocky beach and lake, and the woods surrounding the lake in the very picturesque French countryside. The French subtitles are far from distracting, since there really isn’t very much dialogue and the explicit sex scenes hold your attention quite nicely. This is not a PG-rated film.
There are only three main characters and a couple of other minor players to get to know before and after the intrigue of a body being found at the lake. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), the main character, is a simple, out-of-work vegetable vendor who befriends an odd bisexual swinger named Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao). Henri is a lumpy, balding logger who is spending his three-week vacation at the beach without talking to many people except Franck, who he’d like to spend more time with. He doesn’t cruise or swim, but he’s definitely fallen for Franck, who is at least 25 years his junior.
Unfortunately, Franck likes Michel (Christophe Paou), who has a lover already—until the lover’s body is found in the lake. Michel is like a cross between Tom Selleck and Mark Spitz, and Franck can’t help but fall for this dark, handsome guy who has danger and bad attitude written all over him. Michel won’t take Franck home with him, but he expects Franck to be at the lake early each day awaiting his arrival.
The topics of AIDS and safe sex are handled in a questionable way. While there are some cruisers who play safely, our main characters are more concerned with pleasure than their health and safety. Is there a metaphor in the director having the characters return to the cruising grounds by the lake immediately, ignoring the potential for additional foul play? Are Franck and Michel and the others swimming in the face of danger—much like the choices we make every day with potentially dangerous casual relationships? It doesn’t seem to phase our characters, who act like it’s no big deal and that life must go on—as Franck tells the police inspector who has pegged Franck and Michel as the main suspects.
Without giving away the best plot twists, suffice it to say that the story will keep you riveted. In addition to the graphic sex, the lighting, sound direction, and acting are so clever that you’ll creep to the edge of your seat with anticipation.
Stranger by the Lake is a 100-minute roller-coaster ride—an erotic thriller that will leave you with plenty to think about when the ride is over.
From Strand Releasing Home Entertainment (strandreleasing.com).