Movie Review

Film Review – Strangers By the Lake – Movie Review


Review by Niall Curran

Strangers by the Lake is a thriller set at a lake in the mountains of Southern France during the height of summer and won the Un Certain Regard award for its director Alain Guiraudie at the most recent Cannes Film Festival.

A thriller set in the South of France might conjure up visions of pretty waifs wearing fashionable bikinis and large sunglasses but this is an altogether darker and dangerous proposition. It is set at a gravel beach on the shores of an idyllic aquamarine lake surrounded by forested mountains which is a pick up place or cruising spot for gay men. The men like to sunbathe naked on the beach, enjoy the view and see if there is anyone who takes their fancy before approaching them and suggesting a trip into the bushes together.

The protagonist Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), is an innocent young men who frequents this beach during the summer but this year is different. Firstly, he forms a friendship with the loner Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao) who is an overweight middle aged man who sits alone a few hundred metres away from the lake but says he is not gay. Then he spots a dark and mysterious man they call the swimmer (Christophe Pau) whom he watches and desires but is initially unavailable until a dramatic event draws them together into a sexually charged and paranoid relationship that threatens his life.

The film is very sexually explicit as the director shows what happens at a cruising spot for gay men including erections, ejaculation, fellatio, mutual masturbation and only falls short of including scenes of penetration. At the risk of sounding prudish, the frequency and length of this sexually explicit content was often to the detriment of film’s plot as it distracted from the building tension. The director would probably argue that they were necessary to illustrate the passion between Franck and the swimmer and for the documentary style of the film but the story line is dramatic enough without the need for the shock or provocation of sexually explicit imagery.

Shot using only a few fixed point camera angles, it uses a documentary style with the beach often filmed using a straight-on shot taken from the lake when Franck goes for a swim. It also uses long lingering shots during the film’s more dramatic sequences that give the viewer Franck’s point of view whether it is a man swimming out into the lake or men engaging in sexual activities amidst the bushes. There is no music either which adds to the documentary feel but reduces the impact of the film’s thrilling climax (no pun intended).

Overall, the film is engaging, well acted and constructed with a thrilling denouement but is overshadowed by the frequent and often gratuitous sex scenes that bring to mind the saying that sex is a participatory rather than a spectator sport.

Categories: Movie Review, Movies

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