film note: Stranger By the Lake

This was my first response to this popular art film, first published on Letterboxd with no likes.

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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.

Stranger by the Lake film still

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.


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