Stranger by the Lakerecommended viewing

You always love the one who'll hurt
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2013
Director: 
Alain Guiraudie
Starring: 
Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumcao, Jerone Chappatte
The Setup: 
Man falls under erotic spell of man he knows to be a killer.
Discussion: 

This was the first film where I really felt that I was missing out by being in Chicago, as it came out in New York a full month or so before it finally swung through here--and is only here for a week. Well, I knew what I was getting into. This sounded fascinating the first I heard of it... a man at a gay cruising ground sees another man murder his boyfriend, then becomes erotically drawn to that guy. Then my friends in New York saw it and both, separately, described it as "very French." Now I have seen it, and I know that in this case, "very French" means "has no ending." They also agreed that this film has the most penises onscreen in any non-porn film, which quickly led to us inventing the acronym PPM, as in "Penises Per Minute."

We open with a shot of a clearing where cars park to go to the lake. Our hero, Franck, arrives at this beautiful lake where there are a bunch of nude men laying around. It is a gay crusing place, where guys swim, lay around naked, then go back into the woods to have sex. I myself have never been in such a place, but have read detailed descriptions in Rand McNally encyclopedic volumes. He talks to an older guy, Henri, sitting off to the side, who used to be married and comes there to sit. They discuss how there is rumored to be a "Silurus" [huge catfish] of fifteen feet in the water, and whether or not they're afriad. Then he sees this hot beau-hunk with a mustache and handsome face and awesome body come out of the water and heads into the woods, drops Henri like a hot potato and goes in after him. He finds him--rimming another guy. Womp womp.

The next day he comes again, chats with Henri, and drops him again when Captain Hotness rolls around. This time they chat, and Steamin' McDreamboat says he didn't used to come there, but has been a regular since he discovered it. but suddenly the guys seeming boyfriend shows up, utters a bitchy "Are you READY?" and casts some withering glances Franck's way, so they go. Frank goes into the woods and ends up fooling around with this guy, but turns out neither of them have condoms--Franck is ready to go ahead anyway--but they just end up jerking off. Now, I have to say, this movie gets cruising grounds EXACTLY right. You have that creepy guy who wants to stand by, jerking off and watch you having sex. You have the guy that keeps coming after you no matter HOW clear you have made it that you're not interested. You have the people wandering around aimlessly, disinterestedly. And everyone looking up whenever someone new comes on the scene. Not that I am familiar with any of this from direct experience, but trust me, you can learn a lot from reading the backs of cereal boxes.

By the way, my screening was punctuated by a woman giggling loudly whenever anything dirty happened.

Anyway, after the desultory jerk-off, Franck sits alone in the woods, it grows dark, almost everyone leaves. He sees the mustachoied man-muffin cavorting in the lake with someone, presumably queen priss from earlier, and they're just having splish-splashing fun as though they're in some ad for HIV medication, when suddenly Master Mustache shoves the other guy underwater and holds him there! They other guy comes up, yells, tries to get away, and Studley d'Flowrer holds him down until he doesn't come back up. He them swims in, gets dressed, and takes off. Franck is confused. Distressed. Out of sorts. Horny.

SPOILERS > > >
There's a great moment--those subtle sorts of things you find in French films--where Frank's car lights illuminate the RED car that we immediatey know is the victim's. The next day, that car is still there, as is a towel and sneakers, left overnight. There's no Pablo Potency on hand the next day, so Franck just talks to Henri, and we have learned in here that Henri doesn't ever go into the woods and cruise, and really isn't there for sex, but likes that he can sit alone and no one thinks anything of it. Next day [hey Franck, give it a rest, okay?] Dirk Thrombone is once again on hand, and his name is soon revealed to be Michel. Plus, I was running out of dirty names. You will notice that we quite purposefully only find out character's names late into the film. They go and have sex! And Franck is hesitant. Confused. Then goes for it. So he's a killer! We all have our flaws.

The next day Franck tells Henri that he "thinks he's falling in love." Now, if you weren't sure that Franck had problems of his own, I hope that statement clues you in. Michael shows up, Franck dumps Henri, and they go fuck in the woods without condoms, and the movie makes clear that they do not employ the pullout method. Soon Franck is wanting Michel to go home and spend the night with him, but Michel says "We can have great sex without eating or sleeping together," to which Franck screams "You mean you arent the perfect man who's going to make me complete and love me forever and ever and ever?" Actually he doesn't, buy geez, might as well have. Get an affirmation-a-day calendar and don't come back til you have some self-respect, dude. But oooh--sexy murderers!

The next day there are no cars in the parking lot [except the red one], and a helicopter in the air, and we know that the body has been found. There is a thin inspector who corners Franck and Michel and both lie a bit to confuse the fellow. The inspector asks concerned straight-guy questions, and is surprised that guys there don't get each other's names. After he leaves, Michel comments that Franck lied for him and says "So you must love me a little bit." In the days following, Franck continues to see Michel. At one point they are alone, and Franck refuses to go out swimming alone with Michel... then goes anyway. He also continues to talk to Henri, and we learn that they are having a non-sexual friendship away from the beach. And then we realize that the film is never going to leave the beach. Henri tells Franck that he's concerned, that he suspects Michel, and wonders if Franck realizes that Michel is "a little weird."

Now here's where I tell you the ending, so we can discuss it, but if you don't want to know [and if you're going to see it, I would not read it] skip past the spoilers section. One night, it's just Henri, Franck and Michel at the beach. Henri suddenly goes over to Michel, and makes it clear he thinks he's the killer. Franck is in the water. Henri and Michel disappear into the woods, and Franck follows. He sees them in the brush, waits til Michel leaves, and finds Henri with his throat slit. My friend heard Henri say something to the effect of it's what he wanted, but I didn't hear that. Franck hides, and hears Michel looking for him. The inspector comes, you think all is saved--then Michel kills the inspector. The sun is going down and it's getting dark. After much suspense, Franck comes out and calls for Michel! You're thinking it might have been some mistake, but then he clearly, loudly calls for Michel--and the screen goes black.

So what's it all about? It would seem to traffic in Franck having a sort of death drive, giving in to his attraction for dangerous men, and finally it comes right out to the fore and he essentially asks to be murdered. While I'm not sure how realistic it all is, I was really into how DARK this movie is prepared to go in exploring the attraction to dangerous men, and the idea of a sexual attraction so intense it becomes a thrill to die for desire, and completely give yourself to another person, to the point of reaching fruition by them killing you. It's not exactly aligned with the gay agenda. I also liked that the movie set up Franck, whom we initially assume to be innocent and virtuous, having a lot lacking in personality and making poor decisions all along. Some might feel like the movie has no ending, but I feel that without showing what we know to be the inevitable outcome, it says that what is important is the process of getting there, and the interaction of characters that led up to it. The climax of the film is the reveal that yup, Franck has a big death drive.

The French title of the film, "L'inconnu du Lac" translates more fluidly into something like "The Unknown at the Lake," which captures a bit more of the ambiguity and sense of dangerous allure.
< < < SPOILERS END

There's also the nice relationship with Henri, who is the one person in the film not driven by sex (except for the inspector, I guess). He develops a non-sexual love for Franck that stands in nice contrast with Franck's yearning for Michel, and there is some nice ambiguousness to the final decisions he makes. Otherwise, a finely-made film with a number of clever details, and again, the most convincing and realistic look at a cruising ground I've seen on screen, which gives the film value simply for showing something not often seen.

Still, many will find it "a little French," and unfulfilling. It's the kind of movie that holds you with its filmmaking quality as it is on, is alienating with its seeming lack of ending, but then grows richer and more interesting as you reflect on it. But its ending does leave one a little cold, and doesn't send you out of the theater thinking you've seen something amazing. I say definitely worth it, especially if you're gay and don't need more affirmation, but just be warned that it's more about character and storytelling than a big satisfying movie ending.

Should you watch it: 

I say so, but it's very French.

Comments

Yes I agree that death is what Henri wanted, as he was alone in the world and depressed. I first thought that the ending was a non-ending, but I thought about it and realized that the point is that Franck is surrendering himself to Michel. If this was an American movie we would see Michel jump into the frame and kill Franck, but this is just more subtle. Does Franck die at the end? We don't know for sure, but chances are good.

The director first filmed a slightly longer ending, then decided to shorten it, I think wisely. But the other is intriguing, and available on the Blu-Ray. After Franck has been calling out to Michel in the dark, Michel shows up. Franck decides to kiss him passionately and they drive off together in Michel's car.
(On a personal note, I'm so glad the site is alive and well. You and I had a nice visit in NY, and I will look forward to Chicago. I wonder if you will ever get around to "Jamon, Jamon" which I brought you along with "Who Killed Teddy Bear.")

I still have it and I'll take another look... things just fall off my radar, and plus there's just daily life... Sorry I got distracted but I still have it and promise to look into it! I really appreciate your giving it and still reading the site...