Stranger By the Lake (L’inconnu du lac)
A man goes to a lake on a nearly daily basis. He sees someone he is attracted to, and watches from afar as his crush is hanging out and having fun with someone else. Late one night he watches the two get into a fight in the middle of the lake. His crush comes out, but he loses track of the other guy. Did the guy really disappear underwater and not resurface? Soon afterwards, the crush starts talking to the him. Even though the guy is concerned that he may have witnessed a murder, he can’t help but be drawn into a passionate affair. Then when the original lover’s body is found drowned, suspicion falls upon the man. But he can’t tell what he has seen without incriminating the person for whom he has fallen.
It sounds like a pretty standard thriller formula. The only thing different is that all of these people are men and the setting is a popular French cruising spot, where guys sunbathe and then go into the reeds for gay hookups.
Stranger By the Lake is far from being a standard thriller.
And warning for the squeamish or the homophobic: some of the homosexual sex acts on screen are rather explicit, including near-constant male nudity, some shots of fellatio and full-on ejaculation. Writer/director Alain Guiraudie is trying to portray this particular world, and he is not going to shy away from the details of the place. Either take it as it really is, or stay out.
Then again, most people who had those concerns would probably never go to a movie in which there is a painting of two men kissing passionately on the movie poster. So forewarned is forearmed.
The thing is, this film is actually not so much about homosexuality. As illustrated above, these lovers could have been a man and a woman and the basic storyline would have worked just about the same. Yet it would have been a less interesting film because it is not nearly as unique a setting. The homosexual subculture almost works as a seasoning in the meal, but it is not the full dish.
Not by a long shot.
Stranger By the Lake takes place completely in the area – every single scene takes place either at the lake, the beach, the nearby woods or the parking area. The era is also indeterminate – I’d guess the 80s or 90s, but that is a complete conjecture due to clothes, hair and lack of cell phones. Also, while not all of these guys are overly concerned about it, they do know about condoms and AIDS.
This timelessness is also undoubtedly planned. This could be anytime and any place (the lake and area are also quite indeterminate, someplace somewhere in France). And even anyone. Part of the point of the place is that names and backgrounds are vague, almost no one knows another as much as a person’s last name, much less how to contact them.