LIFF | Stranger by the Lake – An erotic thriller that's neither erotic nor thrilling

video: Les Films du Worso

Stranger by the Lake has been leaving its mark on the festival circuit. Half thriller, half gay love story, it won the Cannes Best Director Award for Alain Guiraudi and the Queer Palm.

At the height of a hot French summer, in a popular cruising spot by tranquil shores of a lake, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) falls in love with tanned and toned Michel (Christophe Paou) sporting quite the Freddie Mercury mustache. Even after watching Michel drown his lover in the lake, Franck keeps recklessly pursuing this summer affair.

Hailed as some sort of avant-garde “gay sex meets murder mystery…gripping and complex” (the Guardian) it actually falls quite short. There is no mystery, no grip, and no complexity; we know right from the start that Michel is the killer and that he may kill again, which he does, but only at the very end of the film – the only point at which things get interesting. Unfortunately, after two quick and bloody murders, the film is wrapped up as Michel vanishes, leaving Franck hiding in the forest, unsure of what will happen to him.

Until the denoument, it’s a case of filling up the running time with scenes of the cark park, the pebbly beach dotted with naked men, a shot of lonely, straight Henri (basically a nice guy with some life problems) sitting by himself, the woods for some gay sex scenes, and repeat. You can count the days.

It’s true that the sex is intensely graphic, at times crossing the line into explicit pornography (body doubles were used) in keeping with Guiraudie’s cinematic style. If anything, it feels like an attempt at overdoing every other French film that ever had a sex scene, even in the year of that other erotic gay Cannes darling; Blue is the Warmest Colour.

But, by outdoing everyone else, Stranger by the Lake perpetuates the idea that gay relationships involve nothing more than casual sex and how many shags can be fit into a day. Or, in the case of this film, under a bush, or behind a tree…

However laudable the film’s lack of inhibition, Stranger by the Lake ends up as nothing more than a slow thriller filled with orgasms and simplistic presentations of gay relationships, whilst managing to be borderline boring.

Rodolfo Barradas

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