The film with the most walkouts I’ve seen in Cannes Film Festival this year (counted at about eight, including the fiftysomething woman beside me who seemed to be having a mild heart-attack at the sight of a male genitalia), Alain Giuraudie’s Stranger By The Lake (L’inconnu du Lac) descended into London’s own film marathon, guaranteed to provoke, incite, astound, bore and defile in equal measure, depending on anybody’s tolerance with explicit cinema. It certainly one-ups Lee Daniels’s The Paperboy last year in exploitation value and sheer brazenness. At least in The Paperboy we anticipate rowdy things to happen, but in Guiraudie’s stylistically spare, soundtrack-free film about sexual shenanigans in a gay cruising French lakeside district, scenes of the most sexually graphic element reveal themselves as naturally as the wind blowing the trees, the water slowly cascading on the shore, the sun high up above the azure blue sky. What I’m really trying to say is that shots of penises, ejaculating members, oral activities and mutual masturbations – oh mon dieu! – are all rendered with such blasé approach that we might have all been watching slices of gay pornography, albeit a tastefully photographed one.
It’s all very French and very matter-of-fact – Guiraudie doesn’t even take his camera beyond the borders of this idyllic haven, often strategically revisiting static widescreen shots of the same setting, each one shedding more psychological light than the previous one. His tale of ever-loosening morals centre on thirtysomething Franck, who frequents a beautiful lake known to be dotted with a few men with homosexual intentions, some old and lonely, and some oozing with dangerous charm. His reasons for cruising is briefly hinted at, being unfortunate with relationships, along with the seduction of summer and the thrill of casual sex. A character that doesn’t beg for empathy, he inexplicably gets drawn to the tall, dark, handsome beauty who knowingly drowns a sex partner when things get too attached.
The lake becomes a character in itself – both a refuge and a paradise for drifting souls, whose lives outside this idyll we barely know anything about. And this works all the better for a film that carefully explores a place where morals and reality are suspended, where the weight of relationships are thrown into the wind, and that any sense of attachment have consequences. “You people have a strange way of loving each other,” an investigator comments on the dubious state-of-affairs of this specific world, which seems to be Guiraudie’s thesis on the slippery nature of gay relations. When love and affections are involved, it makes the picture even all the more dangerous.[separator type=”space”] DIRECTOR: Alain Guiraudie | CAST: Pierre de Ladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao | SCREENPLAY: Alain Guiraudie | DISTRIBUTOR: Peccadillo Pictures | RUNNING-TIME: 97 mins | GENRE: Drama | COUNTRY: France