DVD Review: 'Stranger by the Lake'

A calmer, more inquisitive psychodrama from French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie, Stranger by the Lake (2013) - which premièred in the Un Certain Regard section of last year's Cannes and went on to bag the coveted Best Director and Queer Palm gongs - is a gorgeously minimalist homoerotic noir thriller that looks to investigate both the boundaries between love, obsession and infatuation and the dangerous ways they begin to intertwine. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends his summer days idly hanging out at a remote lakeside enclave, whose secluded location lends itself perfectly to the sun, sea and sexual escapades of its collection of mostly-naked men cruising for their next lay.

Franck quickly becomes enamoured with Michel (Christophe Paou), an enigmatic, mustachioed new presence who glides through the perfect blue waters and, after dark one night, drowns his latest conquest. Though unknowingly witnessed by Franck, the pair acknowledge their instant attraction to one another and begin a relationship, with Franck continuing to secretly abet Michel so as not to risk sacrificing their carnal lust. This is put under strain, however, when the body is found and an inquisitive police investigator slowly begins to connect the dots. Marvellously shot by cinematographer Claire Mathon, Guiraudie's latest is an extremely stylish and tightly wound thriller that subverts the conventional murder mystery whodunit tropes in favour of a French certain frankness.

Guiraudie doesn't shy away from depiction either the crime itself or the abundance of male nudity and sex at the cruising hangout. Rather than offering mere base titillation, Guiraudie uses this to further delineate the film's sole, distinctive, sun-dappled setting; a hermetically sealed refuge for the sexually voracious that is hidden in plain sight. Taking place over ten days, the film slowly moves from one liaison to the next whilst studying the slow burning effects the murder of one of their own has on this clique of men. Although it slowly begins to lose its way as the shifting dynamics of Franck and Michel's relationship turns unexpected corners, Guiraudie's handling of the suspense is masterful, working his Stranger by the Lake up to a gripping, if uncertain climax.

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Edward Frost


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