Stranger by the Lake Screen 90 of 26 reviews

Stranger by the Lake

2013

Stranger by the Lake Poster
  • That Alain Guiraudie’s plein soleil thriller is a stunning formal accomplishment should be self-evident to anyone who sees it. What’s more surprising is that a film that so insistently links sex and death can offer so much sheer pleasure—a pleasure absent either the masochistic moralizing of the Michael Haneke variety or the glibly nihilistic glee of Gone Girl.

  • Guiraudie brings the aesthetics, politics, and psychology of gay hook-up culture to life. Start with the fact that these guys are secluded from the rest of society. The chats are casual and coded as men feel each other out. The biological process becomes a social one (as men feel each other out). Most of all Guiraudie dramatizes the self-destructive carelessness that comes with sexual desire.

  • Guiraudie fills the movie with remarkable point-of-view shots, which are both the visual and the psychological core of the film... They conjure the contrast between inwardness and privacy, between the unspoken and the unspeakable, and between the physical and the subjective aspects of sex—those that aren’t in the body but in the mind.

  • Guiraudie's directorial assurance is stunning: the entire movie is a master class in audiovisual storytelling, as well as an exemplary case of immersing the viewer in an environment. From the choice of the titular lake (pretty but not gorgeous), to the beautiful details of the changing sunlight, play of shadows on naked skin, and the near-enchanted quality of the surrounding forest, Guiraudie creates a coherent world we immediately feel like we inhabit.

  • ...Guiraudie’s rigorous attention to composition, as in the strong diagonal shot four minutes into the film or his preference for protracted, wide side-by-side two-shots over a conventional shot-countershot breakdown, connects the two men both spatially and emotionally. “I like talking with you,” Henri says simply. Guiraudie’s precisely planned visual organization, in which Franck’s point of view is often intercut with objective shots to heighten ambiguity, does the rest of the telling.

  • The conventional answer to the “riddle” of Stranger would be to interpret it as an AIDS parable. But the fact that the film talks explicitly about AIDS at several points makes it clear that Stranger is about more than that. It’s not sex that’s dangerous here so much as love itself—the existential risk of self-loss in surrendering to passion.

  • Like the parking-lot shot that becomes a visual motif, the lakeside grows more menacing over time, even as it retains its natural beauty. A character unto itself, it becomes Guiraudie's principal subject, yielding sex in the woods, death in the water, and temporary salvation on the beach. The characters' actions within these spaces are unequivocal, their lives outside it inconsequential, suggesting a suspended, dreamlike reality.

  • The idyllic mood of Stranger by the Lake turns immediately creepy. With a flair worthy of Hitchcock or Chabrol, Giraudie ratchets up the suspense, expertly using the darkening shadows of dusk and the natural soundscape of wind, water, and animal cries.

  • ...An explicit film about amorphous desire that unapologetically combines menace and eroticism, and daringly—and most alienatingly for those who want to be told what to think at the movies—it has no agenda at all. This thoroughly intoxicating experience manages to exploit sex without cheapening it, interrogate without demonizing it. If for Antonioni Eros was sick, for Guiraudie he’s alive and well, though he’s holding hands with Thanatos.

  • Stranger by the Lake, which feels like a dreamy collaboration of Hervé Guibert's melancholy, Guillaume Dustan's audacity, and John Rechy's perceptiveness, is at once undeniably French and extraordinarily universal... The film offers ever so plainly, and so engrossingly (we are immersed in the lake with Franck and Michel), the very complicated workings of desire in a way only the greatest and most ancient myths have.

  • It's as if Alfred Hitchcock or vintage Roman Polanski had set up permanent shop on a lakeside cruising spot and simply observed the relationship between a beach regular and a fit, charismatic, and charismatically mustached newcomer. Guiraudie's ingenious approach to suspense is wait-and-see, and the central mystery is a matter of behavior that still has me wondering, with fascination, what compels the three main characters to do what they do.

  • What was evident with That Old Dream That Moves (about the final days of an factory and the quietly developing relationship between two male workers) and is just as clear in his latest and possibly greatest film, Stranger by the Lake, is Guiraudie’s mastery at constructing a complete movie experience, integrating formal elements with fascinating themes that can drift unexpectedly into the mythic.

  • Stranger by the Lake is perhaps less of a headscratcher than some of Guiraudie’s earlier work, in that there is no ambiguity about the characters’ location or identity. Yet it shimmers with that intoxicating sun-on-the-water allure that might make someone not quite themselves. A large part of the film’s effectiveness is down to its roster of self-imposed formal limitations, which concentrate the attention into a kind of conceptual and narrative tunnel vision.

  • Though its structure is simple — the film unfolds over 10 consecutive summer days, its action confined to the lake and the nearby grove where sex is sought — Stranger abounds with precision and detail, evinced not just in the spectacular visual composition but also in the observation of behavioral codes in carnally charged spaces.

  • [Guiraudie's] intense focus on this locale has the effect of demystifying gay cruising for straight audiences through an honest depiction of desire that transcends sexual orientation. In this context, the explicit sex in the film is not pornographic, but an organic part of the world Guiraudie is trying to explore.

  • The film mixes suspense (the protagonist knows the guy he’s fallen for may be a murderer), droll comedy and an almost fable-like simplicity to beguiling effect. It’s in the Un Certain Regard strand, but for my money it could easily have stood its ground in the main competition.

  • This is a strange and brilliant film, one that manages to transcend the ironically extreme presentation of its central drama to exist as a stripped-back, Hitchcockian fable about the untenable vicissitudes of human desire... Stranger by the Lake, a deadpan erotic fable, defies easy genre categorisation at every turn, combining the best of everything (comedy, horror, erotic thriller) rather than attempting to plough its own eccentric furrow.

  • ...In truth Guiraudie’s queering of space has in fact expanded to become a universal principle in Stranger. Its three zones of activity situated atop one another like a tricolor flag. And the film’s spatial movement is governed by Franck’s sexual urges and romantic desires for Michel, his confusion in that desire (as an admixture with horror), and his platonic love for Henri. All space in Stranger By the Lake is queer.

  • This could all probably get very tedious very quickly, but to go with the naturalism of his actors, Guiraudie has an offhand, painterly style that captures these men at rest in ways that are elegant without ever feeling composed. The director rarely comes in close to the characters, opting instead to regard them in full or wide shots: This not only makes their bodies ever-present, but also creates a strange aura of unknowability.

  • Though Stranger by the Lake leans a bit too heavily on its long-take, slow-cinema bona fides, there’s a clear purpose to Guiraudie’s rigorous perspective. He’s out to unearth the very potent (and often terrifying) emotions underlying every explicit act, sexual or otherwise. As Franck comes to learn over the course of this hauntingly elemental allegory, death and love are consummate bedfellows.

  • Guiraudie has a sly, pensive wit; “at cruising spots, at least you can talk to strangers,” says Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), a lonely and ostensibly straight man who forms a platonic friendship with Franck. The movie’s careful construction does yield to some pat closing ironies. But in a world where any kind of assembly-line dreck can be sold as an “erotic thriller,” this one more than earns the designation.

  • As withholding as it may be in terms of narrative, Strangerplaces rare faith in the viewer’s visual sense. Guiraudie presents his widescreen long takes with little inflection, conjuring suspense simply from the sounds of crackling leaves and other hallmarks of the natural (or is it au naturel?) realm.

  • Because the lake and beach are so pleasant to look at (and because the relationship between Patrick D'Assumçao's solitary Henri and Pierre Deladonchamps' more insouciantly comfortable Franck is such an unforcedly platonic delight), the last-minute shift into total suspense is breathtakingly absolute and out of nowhere (offhand, the only comparably abrupt other instances coming to mind are Kiarostami's The Wedding Suit and Like Someone In Love).

  • In Stranger by the Lake, director Guirardie creatively exploits its single location, bringing out various qualities from a lakeside cruising spot and its surrounding woods, cleverly conducting a slowly unwinding drama that steadily gains intrigue and mystery.

  • Bit conventional for Guiraudie, the single setting, a gay cruising-spot - shady trees, rather scraggly beach, magical becalmed water which may or may not house a giant predatory fish - being more memorable than the relationships... Languorous and mildly atmospheric, but thinner than expected.

  • In the end, and despite a creepily ambiguous final scene, it’s hard to see what Guiraudie is getting at apart from a general conflation of desire and danger. Plus, as I say, there may well be nuances that are just lost on me. At one point, the investigator tells our hero that he doesn’t really understand this gay community’s behavior, remarking that they talk about love but seem to have a bizarre way of demonstrating it, and every word reflected my own befuddled thoughts...

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