This was my first response to this popular art film, first published on Letterboxd with no likes.
L’inconnu du lac
(Stranger By the Lake)
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
100 mins, France, 2013
Sort of an ironic cross between a James Broughton hippie-gay pastoral sex film and William Friedkin’s Cruising, this is watchable and every bit as pretty but every bit as dumb and sex-negative as you’d expect such a combination to be.
What I thought was going to be a naturalistic exploration of gay male public sex rituals and relationships turns into something silly and glib as one of the habitués witnesses a murder-drowning of a man by his lover and neglects to tell anyone about it. Why? Because he’s in lust with the murderer. The cover-up and its attending metaphors ensue.
There are some well-observed moments here — the masturbator who just wants to watch and maybe blow you every once in a while and the older dudes who just come to chat while naked — but the film seems to disbelieve the essential camaraderie of places like these (the multiple meanings in the film’s title is a good place to start thinking about why that is) and therefore some important memories of mine. Also, having the moral center of a movie be a cop is never going to sit well with me.
But perhaps the most offending shot is one of its most beautiful: the naked killer steps off into the water alone, into the sun reflected off the rippling lake, beckoning his lover to come join him. In death? In a sexual encounter? In a romantic tussle in the water? In this poetic moment, we’re asked to both forget and remember that this relationship-disdaining man is a killer of other gay men. I just wrinkled my nose in disgust. So once the murderer — who looks like he stepped right out of LA Tool and Die — knifes the police inspector in a lovely and spooky long shot, the last 8 minutes of this movie seemed to last forever.