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Stranger by the Lake - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Stranger by the Lake
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

The French sure seem bent on sharing their pride in sexual frankness. First we got the endlessly explicit lesbian sex scenes in Blue Is the Warmest Color -- still a better movie -- and then we get rampant penile exposure in Stranger by the Lake. Don't misunderstand me: as a gay man, I have a natural appreciation for the naked male form. But after watching this movie I've seen enough cock to last a lifetime.

The setting is at a gay cruising area that stretches from the woods to a beach on a large lake -- from which the movie never deviates. Every single shot in this movie is either in the woods, on the beach, or in the lake water. There are maybe slightly more extended shots of guys swimming than is necessary. (There are no women in this movie.) There is definitely more direct shots looking up men's uncovered crotches, as they sit or lay on their beach towels, than necessary. Many of the angles seem intentionally to draw the eye to scrotums. It's a little distracting.

And of course, there's plenty of sex. We're even "treated" to a genuine cum shot. And I have to ask: why? Am I being an American prude here? I am by no means anti-porn. But it feels incongruous for a fictionalized story on film to be mixed with genuinely pornographic elements. The nature of acting is pretend, and there is no need to see actual semen squirting in order for us to be convinced that an orgasm is happening. Even in this movie, plenty of other sex scenes occur in which the men simply grunt realistically, and that's more than enough.

All that said, the story is unusually compelling, given the circumstances, if also a bit mystifying. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is a regular of this cruising spot, but returning after an absence over the winter; Michel (Christophe Paou) is a new face with which Franck is immediately infatuated. They even do a small bit of flirting. After a few days of striking up an odd friendship with an apparently straight, rather old and fat loner who sits by himself further down the beach, one night Franck sees Michel out swimming in the middle of the lake with another guy assumed to be Michel's boyfriend. They splash the water, seeming to play at first, and then -- Michel drowns him. Franck watches, presumably petrified, crouched in the shadows of dusk in the woods just beyond sight as Michel nonchalantly walks out of the water, dresses, and leaves.

Up to this point, the scene is very well set. We see gay men of all body types, cruising or meandering or lounging or swimming, usually naked. Plenty of sex goes on, occasionally awkward but generally without judgment. Franck's friendship with the fat older straight guy is particularly interesting, convincing in its French context but not something you'd be likely to find at any cruisy nude beach in the U.S.

But once the drowning occurs, things get subversively weird. It's clear even by this point that we won't see any scenes set anywhere but at or near the lake, which means that we can only expect Franck to return the next day. And not only does Franck return, but he still actively pursues the man he just saw kill someone. It quickly evolves into a fling, one in which Franck begins asking why they can't ever be together away from the lake and Michel saying he likes to keep his life here separate.

And again the question: Why? Why on earth would Franck, who just witnessed a murder, even showing fear (so it's not like he's directly masochistic), pursue the culprit? The only insight we get is Franck's blithely self destructive behavior in sex without condoms. Otherwise, any sense of motive is absent, for both Franck and Michel.

These questions, on the other hand, are largely beside the point of this movie, which appears to be to build a particular tension leading up to a peculiar climax -- and in that sense, Stranger by the Lake succeeds. Even when you can't figure out why people are doing what they're doing -- which, to be fair, often occurs in real life -- and in spite of what some might consider excessively explicit content, you still can't take your eyes off the screen. There's something to be said for that. And there does come a point where things get so tense that it's suddenly hard to look at the screen just because you're scared of what's coming.

Stranger by the Lake is a little like French gay pornography as directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Some might say that alone makes it worth a look, and probably most who would say so would not be disappointed. I can't think of a whole lot of straight guys I would recommend this movie to. For the goremongers, things do get a little gruesome eventually, but only after a whole lot of butt sex. This movie is certainly unique; no one could deny that at least.

Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps form a weird sexual bond in STRANGER BY THE LAKE.

Overall: B
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