Stranger by the Lake [L'Inconnu du Lac] Movie Review
Even though this dramatic thriller is set in a place most viewers will be unable to identify with, filmmaker Alain Guiraudie and his cast draw us in completely. So when things begin to twist and turn in the final act, the suspense is nearly unbearable. Like the best scary movies, this film takes a real setting and turns it into something surreally dream-like. We may know nothing about gay naturist cruising grounds, but we know what it's like to feel desire even though we know it's not right.
Yes, the story takes place amid naked men lounging in the sunshine and swimming in an idyllic French lake, then cruising for sex in the woods nearby. Franck (Deladonchamps) is a friendly young guy on the look-out for a relationship, drawn to the tanned, muscled stranger Michel (Paou), who seems to have a boyfriend (Labarthe) already. But Franck is happy chatting to the regulars, including the heavy-set older guy Henri (d'Assumcao) who sits off on his own and never visits the woods. Then one evening Franck sees Michel apparently drown his boyfriend. And when the body washes up on the shore, a detective (Chappatte) starts nosing around.
The hitch here is that, even though Franck thinks Michel might be a killer, he's still attracted to him. Filmmaker Guiraudie is exploring that point where desire becomes a moral dilemma. (As Guiraudie notes, "Did Cathy call the cops on Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights?") This kind of twist is just what draws us deeply into a story, as the film unfolds through Franck's eyes, with increasing lust and hope even as the darkness begins to fall around him. It's a staggeringly involving ethical dilemma that builds to a breathtaking finale.
All of this is photographed as earthy realism, with glorious sunshine and relatively little dialogue. There's no background music to push the mood, so all of the interaction feels pure and improvised. And the explicit sex scenes are shocking because they're so unglamorised. But the cameras never shy away from the nudity: why should they in a place like this? And by refusing to sensationalise anything, Guiraudie makes this eerily timeless. It may be a movie for brave audiences only, but for lovers of innovative cinema and truly terrifying thrillers it's destined to be a classic.
Cast & Crew
Director : Alain Guiraudie
Producer : Sylvie Pialat
Screenwriter : Alain Guiraudie
Starring : Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumcao, Jerome Chappatte, Mathieu Vervisch, Gilbert Traina, Emmanuel Daumas