Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends his summer afternoons whiling away the hours by a lake. The beach is a known gay cruising spot and, even though Franck quickly decides on a man he likes, it seems he has been beaten to the punch, so he spends his time talking with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), an apparently straight man who sits apart from the men searching for one another. When Franck is late leaving the beach one night though, he witnesses horseplay in the lake that quickly turns to murder.
Stranger by the Lake is a rather strange film that deals with loneliness, desire, love and fear. The film lives and dies on the performance of Deladonchamps as Franck, and he manages the responsibility ably. There is a fear in Deladonchamps’ eyes throughout the film, but it seems that this is mainly the fear of himself and the fact that he does not run away from what he knows to be a dangerous situation. Patrick d’Assumçao captures the essence of a man on the fringes, filled with loneliness and Christophe Paou brings an oddly unsettling calm to Michel, the object of Franck’s attentions.
Writer/director Alain Guiraudie makes the mystery of Stranger by the Lake not the murder that takes place almost calmly, but what happens afterwards. Guiraudie makes sure that Franck is shown to be a clever, gentle and intuitive man but the fact that he consistently returns to a dangerous situation, and denies what he has seen, leaves the audience questioning human nature and the nature of desire.
As well as this, Guiraudie shines a light on a question that evades many of us throughout our lives, is there a difference between love and desire? In his conversations with the surprisingly astute Henri, Franck discovers the line between the two and finds himself questioning where he stands. As well as this, the questions of loneliness and companionship are explored, along with the notion of cruising itself. In the end, however, it is the line between sex and death that Guiraudie treads most expertly. There are touches of Hitchcock’s Rear Window throughout the film, not least in the way that the men gaze at one another, but also in that Franck seems paralysed by his desire.
As director, Guiraudie throws the audience in at the deep end, with beautiful lingering shots of the scenery that quickly give way to much unashamed male nudity at its most graphic. The chemistry between all the men is both gentle and intense, as though their comfort with being nude opens them up to one another on an emotional level also.
Stranger by the Lake is a tightly wound thriller with plenty of gratuitous male nudity and examinations of desire, relationships, love, death and loneliness. However, the film is let down by an ending that seems as though the filmmakers did not know how to conclude their story.