Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

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Stranger by the Lake
L'inconnu du lac

Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Produced by Sylvie Pialat
Written by Alain Guiraudie
With: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumçao, Jérôme Chappatte, Mathieu Vervisch, Gilbert Traina, and Emmanuel Daumas
Cinematography: Claire Mathon
Editing: Jean-Christophe Hym
Runtime: 100 min
Release Date: 12 June 2013
Aspect Ratio: 2.35 : 1
Color: Color

Stranger by the Lake is the first film I’ve seen by French writer/director Alain Guiraudie. His work up to now hasn’t been well known in the States, but this picture was a big hit at the Cannes Film Festival.  The movie is a kind of art-house hybrid: part gay erotic thriller and part existential tone poem about love, loneliness, risk, connection and death. The action is effectively contained in a single location, on the edge of a lake where gay men sunbath nude and cruise each other in the woods nearby. The film has been acclaimed for its Hitchcockian overtones, but its austere, naturalistic creepiness is far more reminiscent of Michael Haneke, or an early Roman Polanski picture (with a whole lot more male nudity and explicit gay sex). The film moves slowly-- its minimal narrative sneaks up on you.  But since it can be taken in so many ways  (a straight up cautionary tale about promiscuity; a metaphor for the internal struggle between emotional desire and rational logic; an exploration and destruction of a genre) it is never boring to watch. Visually stunning, with its combination of the French countryside’s soft light, the relaxed ripples of the water in the lake, and naked bodies lying on the sand, the picture draws us in and holds us effortlessly. This is a rare graphically sexual gay movie whose voyeuristic titillation works equally well on both queer and straight audiences--which is important because there are key points where we must be able to understand why the main character takes certain actions and chooses to ignore certain events. Guiraudie, surprisingly, pulls this off quite well.