×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Cannes Film Review: ‘Stranger by the Lake’

Explicit sex scenes mark this absorbing and intelligent exploration of queer desire.

With:

Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick D’Assumcao, Francois Labarthe.

The secluded beach bordering an aqua-colored expanse of water is the stage for both death and desire in “Stranger by the Lake,” the career-best feature of Gallic scribe-helmer Alain Guiraudie (“The King of Escape”). Though it contains explicit scenes of gay sex, this is essentially an absorbing and intelligent exploration of queer desire spiced up with thriller elements after one of the studly nudists goes missing. Shot in lush, deceptively serene widescreen tableaux, this improbable cocktail makes for entrancing viewing, though the sight of ejaculating members will make it an extremely hard sell theatrically.

Set during summer, “Lake” opens at the titular cruising location — one it wisely never leaves, creating an almost Aristotelian unity of time, place and action — as the handsome Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) parks his car, walks to the beach, strips and goes for a swim. While in the water, he notices Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), a portly, middle-aged man, sitting far removed from the other, all-male and often naked sunbathers. Franck joins Henri for some small talk before abruptly interrupting their exchange to follow the muscular, mustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou) into the nearby woods.

The main triangle of the film is thus quickly and efficiently established, as Henri becomes Franck’s regular conversational partner over the next few days and Michel becomes his object of desire, though Michel initially keeps busy in the bushes with another man (Francois Labarthe, also one of the pic’s art directors and costume designers).

Through Franck’s casual conversations with Henri, who is divorced and somewhat old-fashioned, and hedonistic sex fiend Michel, Guiraudie explores the differences — both in general and specifically for gay men — between friendship, companionship and intellectual bonds on the one hand, and sex and physical connection on the other. Franck, who finds himself midway between the two extremes, likes to converse with Henri but would never consider sleeping with him, while he desires Michel physically to an irrational extent. Indeed, after having witnessed Michel drown his previous sex mate at nightfall in the lake, Franck is taken aback but not scared away; the danger only serves as a further turn-on.

Sex and death have of course been closely connected for gay men since the onset of AIDS, and the men here do have unprotected sex — perhaps because they find themselves in the heat of the moment, but also out of a possible longing for extreme intimacy. If Franck is attracted by the potential danger that Michel represents, it suggests on a more metaphorical level that a close connection to anyone comes at the price of at least partial abandon to the other and the unknown. Franck does suggest on several post-coital occasions that he and Michel go for a drink or meal, offers that the other man constantly refuses (“Just because we have sex doesn’t mean we need to have dinner”).

Thankfully, Guiraudi’s meditation on sex, compatibility and the problems and potentially high price of (gay) couplehood arise organically from the material, and audiences looking for a more traditional, narrative-driven film are well served once the police turn up after the body of Michel’s drowned lover washes ashore.

Although some of the sex scenes were shot with body doubles, they remain in keeping with Guiraudie’s commitment to photographic realism; Claire Mathon’s beautifully composed widescreen lensing regularly recalls Tom Bianchi’s Fire Island Pines Polaroids, among other influences. The proximity of the characters’ naked bodies finds a clear parallel in the underlying theme of needing to drop all facades in order to find a true and lasting bond.

Although “Stranger by the Lake” tackles serious and complex issues, Guiraudie keeps things extremely straightforward in narrative terms and also injects moments of humor, notably with a couple of supporting players, including a stalkerish nudist-voyeur. Casting of little-known thesps further reinforces the pic’s realism, as do the lensing and ace soundwork, which subtly imply the passage of time over the course of each of the several days during which the story unfolds.

Popular on Variety

Cannes Film Review: 'Stranger by the Lake'

Reviewed at Club 13, Paris, May 6, 2013. (In Cannes Film Festival — Un Certain Regard.) Running time: 100 MIN. Original title: "L'inconnu du lac"

Production:

(France) A Les Films du Losange release of a Les Films du Worso presentation and production. (International sales: Les Films du Losange, Paris.) Produced by Sylvie Pialat.

Crew:

Directed, written by Alain Guiraudie. Camera (color, Panavision widescreen, HD), Claire Mathon; editor; Jean-Christophe Hym; art directors, Roy Genty, Francois Labarthe, Laurent Lunetta; costume designers, Genty, Labarthe; sound (Dolby SRD), Philippe Grivel; assistant director, Julie Darfeuil; casting, Stephane Batut.

With:

Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick D’Assumcao, Francois Labarthe.

More Film

  • Scarlett Johansson poses for photographers upon

    Scarlett Johansson 'Pushing' For All-Women Marvel Movie

    After the epic battle scene in “Avengers: Endgame” when the female superheros unite to protect Spider-Man from Thanos,  Marvel fans started wondering if they’ll ever see the women unite for a stand alone movie. “Captain Marvel” star Brie Larson generated even more buzz when she told Variety that she and other female co-stars have approached [...]

  • Ivana Lombardi Netflix

    Annapurna Film Head Ivana Lombardi Named Director of Indies at Netflix (EXCLUSIVE)

    Annapurna Pictures president of film Ivana Lombardi is moving across town to Netflix, after almost a year in her role at Megan Ellison’s company. As of Nov. 6, Lombardi will serve as director of independent films at the streamer. She will report directly to Lisa Nishimura, Netflix’s vice president of independent film and documentary features. [...]

  • Zoe Kravitz 'Big Little Lies' TV

    Zoe Kravitz to Play Catwoman in 'The Batman'

    “Big Little Lies” star Zoe Kravitz has been tapped to play Catwoman, the antiheroine and sometime love interest of the Caped Crusader, in Matt Reeves’ upcoming “The Batman.” Kravitz will star opposite Robert Pattinson as Batman. Pre-production on the Warner Bros.-DC Comics pic is expected to start this summer. No official start date has been [...]

  • Hadley Robinson Amy Poehler

    'Little Women' Actress Hadley Robinson to Star in Amy Poehler's 'Moxie'

    “Utopia” and “Little Women” actress Hadley Robinson has been tapped to star in Amy Poehler’s next directorial effort “Moxie.” Lauren Tsai is also on board to co-star in the Netflix movie. “Moxie” follows a teenage girl (Robinson) from a small town who is inspired by her mother’s Riot Girl past and starts a feminist revolution [...]

  • Samara Weaving

    'G.I. Joe' Spinoff 'Snake Eyes' Adds 'Ready or Not's' Samara Weaving

    Samara Weaving will join Henry Golding in the “G.I. Joe” spinoff, “Snake Eyes.” Haruka Abe, Ursula Corbero, Iko Uwais and Andrew Koji have also boarded the Paramount, Skydance and AllSpark movie. “The Captain” director Robert Schwentke is helming and Brian Goldner is producing. Evan Spiliotopoulos, who wrote “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Huntsman: Winter’s [...]

  • The Irishman

    'The Irishman' to Screen at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre

    Netflix’s “The Irishman,” directed by Martin Scorsese, will screen at American Cinematheque’s Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood  for two weeks starting Nov. 1. The screenings, announced Monday, are part of the limited theatrical run for the 209-minute crime drama, which premiered at the New York Film Festival on Sept. 27. Netflix will begin streaming “The Irishman” on [...]

  • Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations 2019

    'Biggest Little Farm' Nabs Seven Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations

    “The Biggest Little Farm” leads nominees for the fourth annual Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards, with seven bids, followed by “Apollo 11” and “They Shall Not Grow Old.” “One Child Nation” received five nominations. The winners will be presented their awards at a gala, hosted by Property Brothers’ Jonathan Scott, on Nov. 10 at BRIC in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content