Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By the Lake

Stranger By the Lake did not have the momentum of pre-screening buzz at the Cannes Film Festival before its World Premiere, but it sure had plenty afterward. Quite likely not a film that will play at a multiplex near you, even some Cannes attendees walked out of the nevertheless packed Debussy Theater when it screened in the Un Certain Regard section. Still, it received strong applause and positive critical response, transcending its likely core gay audience to win over a cross-section of festival attendees. Filmmaker Alain Guiraudie won Best Director in Un Certain Regard and the film picked up the festival's Queer Palm. Still, it's probably not for the faint of heart.

Set entirely at a French lakeside beach and surrounding forest, the film starts off casually enough with Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) swimming in the buff, checking out fellow beach-goers on the shore. He meets a middle-aged man who sits apart from the crowd and strikes up a conversation. Henri (Patrick d'Assumcao) says he only wants companionship and Franck obliges with friendly conversation, but the younger Franck's carnal attentions are focused on another skinny-dipper, Michel (Christophe Paou).

Though Michel seems very much of the moment, he gives Franck the eye and the two are quickly shown—quite graphically—having some nature-filled romps in the nearby woods. Franck's attraction continues and the pair meet on subsequent days for more sex in the forest in scenes that will easily earn this movie an NC-17 rating stateside barring drastic cuts, which seems unlikely.

Speaking to FilmLinc's Daily Buzz podcast during Cannes, Guiraudie acknowledged the duality of Stranger by the Lake, saying he wanted to mix the moods of two genre, which appears to have seduced early audiences and critics: “Something that I had in mind the whole time I was writing the film [was] how to mix these two genres—the comic and the tragic, the laughter and the so-called thriller… As to how I did it, it’s very difficult for even me to explain.”

Alain Guiraudie's Stranger By the Lake.

Shot over what appears to be a number of days in summer, the frivolity of casual hook-ups takes on a darker tone when a police investigator shows up asking the men, including Franck, about the body of a young man found near the beach. Franck uncomfortably denies know anything.

Critics praised the film while acknowledging it will be a challenge to get out into the world. Noted The Playlist: “While its graphic scenes of gay sex are what will grab headlines, what was most impressive to us was the film’s unique mood: Guiraudie creates an ambiance of eerie atmospherics that is at once crisp and observant, and oddly dreamlike, or nightmarish.”

Added The Hollywood Reporter: “Stranger by the Lake invites you into its alluring and peaceful world, only to gradually uncover the darkness beneath it. Likewise, the naturalistic performances are extremely calm, even friendly, which makes the events depicted all the more unsettling.”

Stranger by the Lake (L'inconnu du lac)
Writer-Director: Alain Guiraudie
Cast: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumcao

NYFF Official Description:

Winner of a directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Alain Guiraudie’s exploration of death and desire unfolds entirely in the vicinity of a gay cruising ground that becomes a crime scene. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a regular at a lakeside pickup spot, where he finds companionship both platonic and carnal. But his new paramour Michel (Christophe Paou) turns out to be a love-’em-and-leave-’em type, in the deadliest sense… Guiraudie has long been a singular voice in French cinema: anti-bourgeois, at ease in nature, a true regionalist and outsider. Here he captures naked bodies and hardcore sex with the same matter-of-fact sensuousness that he brings to ripples on the water and the fading light of dusk. A Strand Releasing release. [Please be advised that this film has scenes of a sexually explicit nature.]