Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Death and the lake ...

"The lake is a calming place, and at the same time it can swallow you up forever". So starts the blurb  for this French thriller.
Summer time. A cruising spot for gay men seeking nameless sexual encounters is tucked away on the shores of a picturesque secluded lake in rural France. Franck is an attractive young male who falls for Michel, a striking, extremely potent but lethally dangerous man. Franck has witnessed this first hand, but his desire for Michel knows no bounds, this a relationship he must have - at any cost.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE is a tense thriller set against the secluded backdrop of what inevitably becomes the most dangerous lake in France. 
A provocative and accomplished effort by France's bad boy auteur, STRANGER BY THE LAKE is Alain Guiraudie's steamy mix of the comic and the tragic, winning Cannes Best Director and becoming one of the year's breakout successes. 

Or: Pretty poster, very dark film. Well, this was not what I was expecting at all. I like a good thriller with dark elements, shades of Highsmith or Hitchcock, and there are a couple of good frissons here as Franck out swimming in the lake suddenly sees Michel swimming towards him and is apprehensive - as he has earlier seen Michel drown his previous sex partner, and then that police inspector starts all those questions ... These men only meet in the woods and by the lake in daylight - nobody seems to meet later for drinks or meals or even sleep together all night - though they often talk about it. Michel and Franck seem to be loners, and so too is poor maybe-straight Henri also there every day and who sees what is going on, and fatally taunts Michel - but as the dying Henri says to Franck, he got what he wanted - did he want to die to end his own loneliness? 
SPOILERS, MAYBE: The leads, Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck and Christophe Paou as Michel, leave nothing to the imagination, but those lean French bodies may not be everybody's cup of tea .... director Alain Guiraudie certainly captures the mood of the lake and the woods and the heavy cruising, reminding me of places in England .... it all captures the loneliness of the lifestyle and the characters who may be having sex together but are not really connecting or connected. The inserts of graphic moments, whether done by the actors or stunt doubles, hardly seem necessary. There is no real character development though and we never see their lives away from the cruising area - Michel remains a one-note psycho-killer, while Franck knows but does not seem to care ... 
Casual sex can leave one very empty and some of these are not even using condoms - maybe another metaphor for dicing with death? Franck is addicted to sex and has no regard at all for the risks  The inspector (no Chabrol detective, he) is taking risks too interviewing suspects on his own. So far so  interesting, but not a barrel of laughs, you may need something to cheer you up afterwards, as it leaves one quite unsettled. And that ending - after 2 more murders, it takes place in total darkness so one has to decide how it ends.  The alternative ending and deleted scenes do not help ... I like a mystery as much as the next man, but one needs to know how the story ends ... one ends up being fearful for Franck and wondering what happens to him ...the openness of the ending suggests that he is safe in the dark but not if he responds to Michel's calls ... 
That other recent French gay must-see BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR is much more engrossing and enthralling, as per my review, French label, they certainly are a pair of films to see and ponder on. But a French gay interest title not by Francois Ozon or Andre Techine ... ! An amusing IMDB description: "A bleak thriller that puts the cock back in Hitchcock"! while others saw it as an art-house porn/slasher movie. They may be right. Anyway, I have passed it on to a friend, as I did not want to keep it as I would not want to see it again.

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