Foreign Favourites: Stranger by the Lake

Time for another entry to the Foreign Favourites series thanks to the very awesome Wendell at Dell on Movies. You should definitely pop over. Wendell has a perceptive and detailed way of writing and has plenty of fantastic features and blogathons. Here is his take on the French thriller/drama Stranger by the Lake.

stranger-by-lake-movie-poster

Directed by Alain Guiraudie.
2013. Not Rated, 97 minutes.
Pierre Deladonchamps
Patrick d’Assumcao
Christophe Pauo
Jerome Chappatte
Mathieu Vervisch
Gilbert Traina
Emmanuel Daumas

Quick Synopsis: (IMDB)

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.

shadow still
This is one of those movies I’m told is brilliant, but I’m not feeling the greatness. My main problem is that it can’t decide what it wants to be. This isn’t some masterful fusion of genres. It’s a film with abrupt detours down disparate paths. At first, it appears as if we’re going to get a character study of Franck (Deladonchamps), a young man desperately looking for love, but in a rather unhealthy manner. Instead of meeting people and trying to form relationships built on commonalities, he’s trying to find what his heart desires through his groin. He hangs out everyday at the local lake that doubles as the place to “cruise.” By “cruise,” I mean hook up with random guys for casual, possibly anonymous, and discrete sex in the woods surrounding the water. By discrete, I mean the people in their “real” lives may not know these guys hang out here as most have wives and girlfriends. However, not necessarily discrete during the act since some like to watch and be watched. by the way, hanging out is a literal term also. There are naked dudes everywhere. The one outsider among them is Henri (d’Assumcao) who just comes to the lake, sits on the rocks near the shore and stares at the water all day. He and Franck strike up a friendship of sorts. Franck goes over, says hi, and chit-chats with Henri a bit before jaunting off to the woods to get it on with someone.

The problem with the setup is that we never really get the character study we’re prepped for. Conversations between Franck and Henri are only mildly interesting and not at all compelling. We get the idea that Franck has no clue what love is, or at least falls into it much too quickly. After bopping the same guy tow or three days in a row, he’s hopelessly head over heels while his newfound partner clearly isn’t However, there really is no examination of this. Instead of exploring our hero’s psyche, we’re suddenly off on a murder mystery as the body of one of the cruisers is discovered in the lake. A creepy detective starts coming around asking questions of everyone. He’s meant to appear to be a veteran cop with a cool seen-it-all demeanor, the type that can’t be phased. With him constantly popping up out of nowhere he’s only slightly less icky than that one dude who likes to stand next to couples while they’re in the act and fondle himself and has the nerve to get offended if someone asks him to go away. Yeah, that really happens. As for the detective, his presence fails to do the one thing it must, add mystery to the proceedings. We can gather who the killer is from the conversations that are had. The fact that there aren’t many characters of any significance doesn’t help. Our too-cool cop just highlights the lack of dramatic tension rather than drawing us into his investigation.

beach scene

Since the budding friendship, Franck’s potential romance with another suitor, nor the murder mystery prove to be intriguing, all we’re left with is the sex. Yes, there’s plenty it. And it’s pretty graphic, including an actual ejaculation. There is so much sex that it takes over the movie. It’s arguable that this is merely porn with better production values. The easy comparison, of course, is another recent French movie with explicit sex featuring gay characters: Blue is the Warmest Color. The difference is that in Blue the sex is contained to a few scenes, extensive, but still enveloped within a narrative that is far more compelling than it is titillating. Here, the movie is half the length with at least twice the sex and a number of plot lines that aren’t really working with each other.

As if the lack of cooperation between the various narrative strands isn’t enough, another is thrown into the mix. During the last ten minutes or so, a slasher flick breaks out. It’s meant to be the grand finale of a sexy thriller. Instead, it feels like Jason Vorhees showed up on the set and confused things even further. While this is somewhat fun, it’s in a completely different vein than everything that happens to this point and takes me completely out of the movie to whatever extent I was actually still in it. It’s more of a spectacular crash and burn than a great finish. Somewhere in the wreckage there lies a great film, maybe two. One could have us delving into Franck’s mind, the other a suspenseful whodunit. As assembled, it’s a jumble of parts meant for different machines.

Verdict: My Score 4/10
A big thanks again to Wendell for taking part and for such a terrific review. Have you seen it? Would you agree? Any French directors or actors you would like to see more of?

 

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15 thoughts on “Foreign Favourites: Stranger by the Lake

  1. Pingback: Guest series: Foreign Favourites | Alex Raphael

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