The realism in Stranger by the Lake (or, L’Inconnu du lac) is what initially draws audiences in. It’s paced deliberately slow to match life’s sunny tranquilities, and the cruising men who attend this private beach looking for a getaway and the occasional hook up come across as real people.
Stranger by the Lake is uneventful for the most part, but its serenely baked atmosphere is musing. Once a dangerous dramatic turn comes into play, that unbalance is what entices us more.
If writer/director Alain Guiraudie had kept up with this precisely convincing tone, Stranger by the Lake could’ve been a slow burn masterpiece. But, Guiraudie’s mishandling of a forefront romance is botched and sends the film spiralling downwards into boredom and falseness.
Before the film collapses, Guiraudie establishes this secret beach nicely as well as the cruising state of mind. He’s not trying to make sentiments about homosexuality like Blue Is the Warmest Colour did, but he is portraying human interaction and desires interestingly. By having these anonymous men wander around the beach and into the deep forest, the film proposes that a lot of our sexual needs boil down to being animalistic. These cruisers search for a mate and after scanning the planes, they may find someone compatible. The same can be said about the onlookers who would rather watch intimacy than physically take part.
With the mention of Blue Is the Warmest Colour, I must issue a warning for those who are bothered by graphic sexual content. If you thought Blue Is the Warmest Colour showed too much skin, Stranger by the Lake may very well put you in a coma. However, the visuals within the context are unbarred to a fault.
The purpose of nudity and uncensored explicitness is much different than how it was used in last year’s excellent female coming-of-age film. Here, it’s not directly highlighted unless its during spontaneous sex. Then, we get intrusively gratuitous close-ups of the”action”.
Otherwise, the full frontal male nudity is strictly of exhibitionist nature whilst on this nude beach. The problems entail when Guiraudie refuses to add variety to his shot list. Everything is shot using the same sort of cinematography with the same distance between the camera and the actor – you get the full Monty for pretty much the entirety of the movie.
The French foreign production also didn’t take into consideration that the film could eventually be subtitled for outsiders who don’t speak the language. To North Americans: get ready to read subtitles that reside along shots of unflattering, flaccid penises and dark undercarriages. And, try to stay hooked to the dialogue when the actor suddenly decides to cross and uncross his legs.
Our lead Franck is seduced by a new cruiser named Michel and falls for him. This is when the film hits another bump. The attraction between the two men happens right before Franck witnesses Michel committing a murder. Blatantly shook up, Franck has the chance to cut ties with Michel. Inexplicably, he never does and his rushed crush on Michel gets stronger. It’s an odd stroke of character development that doesn’t hint Franck is even a little bit scared or threatened by Michel. If he’s supposed to be feeling those things, Pierre Ladonchamps has done a haphazard job of showing those emotions.
It’s that one misstep in the film’s authenticity that throws it off the beaten path. The directorial decisions starting from the second act lose what made them special in the first place. It almost feels as if this brave director has painted himself into a corner. He’s pitched an intriguing dilemma in an open environment and doesn’t know where to go.
The suspense drops awfully quick with the realism becoming less and less profound. Alain Guiraudie is just one of the people involved with Stranger by the Lake who blows it.