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L’Inconnu du Lac (Stranger by the Lake) by Alain Guiraudie

January 3, 2014


Every afternoon Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) parks by the lake and goes to the beach where he will remain until night will fall, he dedicates his time to sunbathing, swimming and gay sex. The lake is the film’s only location and every scene begins with Franck parking his old Renault 19 – the cars (along with the absence of cellphones) are one of the many puzzles presented by Guiraudie,  the only explicit moments come from the sex scenes. Franck has a peculiar friendship with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), Henri isn’t into gay sex, we gather he has separated from his wife and family, therefore he feels uneasy to go to the side of the lake where non-gay people go – he may not share the sexual inclination of the community but he fully embraces its need of anonymity and feeling of exclusion – Henri is the only character who is open to meeting for a drink Franck and the other guys in real life, far from the lake. A title like Stranger by the Lake – and a film with a hint of thriller and mystery – seem to require the viewer to understand who is the stranger, in the end we will realize that everybody by the lake is a stranger – with the exception of Henri (who is not a full member of the community) at the end of the film every character will remain a stranger to us as he was in the beginning: but what is the point of a story when identity and motivations of its characters are left out of it?


Guiraudie’s intentions seem quite clear: to depict the isolation and fear lived by these people, living in isolation and fear seems natural to Franck, he finds refuge in places (the beach by the lake) and persons (his lover Michel) which would make other people flee, at the same time it’s easy to imagine this same story filmed with straight characters, with the exception of their sexual act there is nothing gay here: was this Guiraudie’s point? I ignore it, what I know is that while the structure of the film has its charm, its ninety minutes seemed much longer to me, someone might appreciate Guiraudie’s nerve to avoid a true climax, but at the end of the film – considering the explicit sex scenes and the double ending – I got the impression that the French director’s main scope was shocking/surprising the viewer, alas I was left cold by the lifeless characters and the overall weirdness, just think of the police officer, was he a police officer for real or just another gay visitor posing as one? One of too many questions I don’t care to get an answer. Best film of 2013 according to Les Cahiers du Cinema, I’m glad to be a Positif subscriber.

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