Dir/scr: Alain Guiraudie. France. 2013 97mins


Alain Guiraudie’s thoughtful and provocative Stranger By The Lake takes place in an environment of natural beauty where men indulge their atavistic desires, whether that be unsafe sex, murder – or unsafe sex with someone you know to be a murderer.

Stranger By The Lake is by turns a commentary on risk-taking, sex, death and the gay community wrapped up in an art-house thriller with comic notes.

The French director, who moves from surreal comedies and his usual Directors Fortnight slot to Un Certain Regard with this dark and pared-back feature, sets his story in a cruising spot for men, a quiet, functional, stony shore in which the sun crackles and the trees whistle and men silently criss-cross in the adjacent forest, looking for sex.

That sex, hardcore as it is, will hold Stranger back from wider consumption than the LGBT and festival circuit, although it can expect to attract a following and will undoubtedly burnish Guiraudie’s reputation. Although loosely-paced - at times coming perilously close to ground – its focus is clear, its questions absorbing. It is also – at least at the outset – a quirkily humorous piece, which leavens some of the on-screen intensity.

Giraudie’s action takes place entirely at a gravelly car park, the stony shore, and the exquisite lake of the title.  Led by two newcomers, the film’s all-male cast comes to sunbathe naked, swim, and silently eye each other up before heading into the bushes for X-rated action, or, perhaps, just a bit of harmless voyeurism. Some men are tourists and others, like the youthful, careless Franck (Deladonchamps), are locals.

Franck is a handsome former fruit&veg stallholder, between jobs, who comes to the lake every day. In short order he meets the overweight logger Henri (D’Assumcao), a divorcee who just wants to sit apart, staring at the lake silently, and the rugged Tom Selleck lookalike Michel (Paou). Franck is attracted to both men: to Henri for his easy companionship, and to Michel for danger and sex. Just how much danger becomes clear when Michel drowns his boyfriend in the lake one evening, witnessed only by Franck.

This is a quiet film studded mainly by ambient noise: apart from Franck’s interactions, the men on the beach don’t really engage with each other in Guiraudie’s cut-off community. As the policeman who comes to investigate the death comments, they have an odd way of caring for each other. And Franck’s continuing attraction to Michel is the ultimate progression of his risky sex life – just how far will he take it?

Accomplished work in the technical departments, in particular sound design and cinematography  (Claire Mathon) give this low-budget film a polish to match its intelligence. Stranger By The Lake is by turns a commentary on risk-taking, sex, death and the gay community wrapped up in an art-house thriller with comic notes. Oddly enough, it’s a mix that works.

Production company: Les Films du Worso

International sales, Les Films Du Losange, www.filmsdulosange.com

Producers: Sylvie Pialat, Benoit Quainon

Cinematography: Claire Mathon

Editor: Jean-Christophe Hym

Production designers: Roy Genty, Francois Labarthe, Laurent Lunetta

Main cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick D’Assumcao, Jerome Chappatte