"Despite its pleasant air there is a dark heart beating beneath the surface"
If Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train reinforced the parental lesson to be wary of strangers, one must suspect that Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) the lead protagonist of Stranger by the Lake has either not seen this classic slice of American cinema or he has failed to learn from Farley Granger’s precarious missteps.
Alain Guiraudie’s sixth feature tells the story of the misguided passion of Franck's on the shores of a secluded lake, a cruising spot for men enters into a dangerous liaison with Michel (Christophe Paou).
But then do we the audience not acquire so much of our entertainment from fictional protagonists flirting with doom and death? Film is after all an experience in which if a character must jump from the battlements as Tosca has done and which have delighted audiences and provoked rapturous applause, then so be it. If they should require a little nudge from the writers pen then so be it, so long as their dalliance with death is entertaining. Franck is one of the more recent protagonists to enter a dangerous dance, and one which will no doubt earn the gratitude of the audience even if it is a silent and unspoken gratitude.
Guiraudie turns his hand masterfully to space and character, breathing life into the space through metaphor. It is not simply a backdrop for his one-location drama, but like Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and Lumet’s 12 Angry Men it becomes a character in and of itself. Meanwhile Guiraudie positions his characters to open a discourse on lust versus love, a conversation moderated by passive observer Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao). This opposition perhaps acts as a mirror for the conflict that will exist for some audiences in distinguishing eroticism from pornography. Whilst Stranger by the Lake is the former, an example of erotic cinema, it may suffer the fate of being labelled as pornography by some.
If Guiraudie has created his own space at the edge of the world, an expression that calls to mind Michael Powell’s film of the same name, Guiraudie's characters are not confronting nature per say, but nature of the human variety. Despite its pleasant air there is a dark heart beating beneath the surface, or perhaps they are more aptly described as the undercurrents that swell beneath the lake and threaten the calm above. But threaten in hindsight is a redundant adjective. If this is the edge of the world on the fringes of society, then Michel speaks of the impossibility to separate ourselves from our primitive violent instincts, whilst Franck speaks of our vulnerability to primitive instincts of a different kind – lust and sex.
Stranger by the Lake is a patient film that will reward the patient viewer. There is even a glimmer of Guiraudie peering out towards the monotonous void; his cast of characters lost in a monotonous cycle wherein they sit in the sun, swim and have sex. They are trapped within a cycle that reflects the potential monotony of being alive; the only escape death.
The slow and assured pace is complimented by the presence of philosophical leaden dialogue and bursts of drama. Not dissimilar to a piece of music or the tide of the lake, Stranger by the Lake rides a soothing ebb and flow. Aside from the seamless transition into a thriller, Guiraudie shows himself to be a master of space and light; dialogue and mood, in which he has crafted a film that is a fine piece of modern art house cinema.
STRANGER BY THE LAKE IS RELEASED IN UK THEATRES ON THE 21 FEBRUARY AND WILL BE AVAILABLE ON VOD FROM 7 MARCH