A Conversation with Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps about a tale of lust, sex, violence and murder
One might consider the sun soaked shoreline of an idyllic setting a tempting escape from the British winter until spring and summer finally descends. Sadly you would be wrong, as Stranger by the Lake, the sixth feature film from French writer-director Alain Guiraudie takes this idyllic setting and imbues it with a nightmarish smearing of blood.
A tale of lust, sex, violence and murder Guiraudie serves up one of the year’s art house gems, and ahead of the film’s theatrical and VoD release The Fan Carpet was fortunate to have the opportunity to sit down with the films leading men Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps.
In an engaging conversation Christophe and Pierre spoke of working with the talented Guiraudie, acknowledging him on more than one occasion as the reason for the film’s success, whilst also touching on the habitual tendency of cinema to transform paradise into hell, crafting a universal story through an emphasis on character, and the distinctions between eroticism and pornography.
In a previous interview Alain remarked how the film, “demanded a greater investment on the part of the actors, and the question quickly arose of how far they’d be willing to go, but also how far I would take them.” To begin could you talk about the collaborative relationship between yourselves and Alain?
Christophe Paou: The question of how we would deal with the sex scenes was actually the first thing we addressed. But we worked together to try to discover how Alain planned to shoot those scenes in particular. Rehearsing and talking amongst one another, and because we were familiar with his earlier work – his way of working with actors is very realistic, we were confident. So the challenge disappeared through that collaboration and complicity.
Pierre Deladonchamps: It was interesting to be acting in this kind of radical movie. You need to be ready to put yourself into this universe, but actually we didn’t have any background work to do because we realised that Alain knew what he would want us to do.
We talked a lot about the sex scenes and we decided very quickly that for those scenes we would get body doubles. So it was planned that we would do the simulation scenes and then the body doubles would do the actual sex scenes.
Concerning this universe, when I first read the script I could not have imagined the end result. When I finally saw the film I was amazed because Alain despite not having much at the beginning did a lot with it. The script was very pure and simple but his direction and his approach to filming was the movies greatest talent – the overall choices, the rhythm, the fact that there is no music. It’s beautiful and it gives everything a very specific feel. We would just let him direct us, and if he was happy during rehearsal then we knew that it would approximately be the same on set. But all of us on the film were amazed by the beauty of nature and the lake that carried us away.
Cinema has a habit of taking beautiful and idyllic spaces and uprooting them. The first murder is a moment which instils the film with a nightmarish quality, but it is a tonal change that grows out of the pleasantness of the films early scenes.
Pierre Deladonchamps: There are definitely two big parts in the movie, and there is that one point where the story switches to a thriller. We thought we would discover this world and maybe something would happen, but Alain’s talent was that he also managed to do what I previously suggested, which was to create something that is deep and dark with the audience as a witness of. He didn’t want the audience not to know or not to wonder. He wanted the audience to know from the beginning that Michel was dangerous and how my character Franck would fall in love despite knowing he’s a killer. But that was very smart of Alain because the audience becomes a part of the story as soon as they know something that the others don’t. I like the fact that he takes the audience as a witness and then shows them how the story ends.
Christophe Paou: Alain made the lake a character, and whilst the lake and its surroundings might be heaven, because of the light, the weather it might also be hell. Suddenly the lake itself became very frightening, and that is one of several things he added to the space to play with and to make the love story or the sexual desire stronger.
The film is a dance of death. You know that Michel is dangerous but the introductory wave and smile are almost seductive, leaving just a fragment of doubt as to whether we are being manipulated by our own paranoia. In this dance Michel is an all-consuming predator, whilst the Henri character who sits on his rock at the edge and passes words of wisdom onto the Franck character gives the film an Aristotelian presence. In this small world you’ve created a metaphorical space but one which is playful with its cast of characters.
Pierre Deladonchamps: Also the three main characters, even the four main characters with the inspector are all different parts of the same person. All humans talk about loneliness, love, judgment, friendship and sex. All of the characters are important in this movie and they show mirror parts of the human being and that’s why I believe the subject and movie are universal. It speaks to men, women, homosexuals, heterosexuals because they can find something in it that relates to them.
There is clearly a distinction to be made between eroticism and pornography, but why do you think it is that this distinction is overlooked and not always made?
Pierre Deladonchamps: Well the main difference between the two is that pornography is made to turn you on, and it has no other aim. There is no story; no actors and they don’t tell us anything. It’s just yelling, the displaying of the bodies and making love or fucking. In my mind this film shows how people can have sex with feelings or without feelings. They are human beings who ask themselves questions about sex itself; sex with love and sex without love. I think this is the main difference.
Christophe Paou: This is their big love story. Of course when you have a love story there is a moment when you are making love, and regardless of whether you are sixty years old or fifteen years old that moment exists in general. This is a part of life and that’s what Alain wanted to show, that we are sexual and it is a part of us all.
Pierre Deladonchamps: If you think about it sex is one of the last taboos in cinema, but why? People think it is too intimate to show sex, but is it? When you show a lot of violence on the screen nobody’s shocked, but it’s about death. Death is of course important, but with sex everybody says “No I don’t want to watch this, it’s too gross. But it’s not. Sex is related to life because were all born through the sexual act.
Alain wanted the film to show that sex could be filmed with grace and tenderness and in a good way. When you see porn on the internet or in movies it doesn’t necessarily show it as or how it can be a sexual relationship between two people. Almost all of the time it is both gross and very tough and there is a lack of feelings, though we are not looking for that when we watch porn. So in this movie there are sex scenes but inside of a big love story with characters who you are starting to learn a little bit more about in contrast to a porn character.
Interview by Paul Risker.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE IS RELEASED IN UK THEATRES ON THE 21 FEBRUARY AND WILL BE AVAILABLE ON VOD FROM 7 MARCH