Review: ‘Stranger by the Lake’ uses cruising as a metaphor for relationships

Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps play hesitant cruising site lovers in "Stranger by the Lake." Credit: Strand Releasing
Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps play hesitant cruising site lovers in “Stranger by the Lake.”
Credit: Strand Releasing

‘Stranger by the Lake’
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Stars: Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou
Rating: NR
5 (out of 5) Globes

Mainstream screens are becoming less and less uncomfortable with showing gay men. Actual man-on-man sex, for whatever reason, is another issue. Gay men, unlike their female counterparts, can be personalized but rarely sexualized. It’s a safe bet that the French art film “Stranger by the Lake” features more dude banging — and, for that matter, more unclad male members — than nearly any film outside of pornography (which it briefly is, thanks to a couple hardcore moments).

The setting is a cut-off rural lakeside that has become a hopping cruising site. Our strapping youngish hero, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), whiles away summer days stripping down, swimming, making semi-awkward chitchat and nipping away to the woods for what’s usually some disappointing sex with neurotic/weirdo fellow frequenters — that’s if it happens at all.

Despite the specific setting and subject matter, Franck could be anyone fumbling through any dating scene, especially because he does, in fact, want love. After several false starts and wrong turns, he thinks he finds it in Michel (Christophe Paou), whose Tom Selleck mustache evokes a bygone era. Thing is, Franck one night witnessed Michel drowning his former boy toy, a development that doesn’t keep Franck from carrying on a cruising site-only affair.

The first half is content to hang out and observe, with deadpan glee, the sometimes amusing inner workings of this microcosm. (The failed pick-ups are always good for a laugh, while a socially backward masturbating guy makes for a terrific running gag.) The second is eaten up by an investigation into the death, enforced by a comically calm investigator who likes to pop up out of nowhere, arms behind his back, for questioning. Here, the film becomes even more glaringly metaphorical, using a horror/thriller plot to get at something deeper. In addition to making films that faux-casually portray “unusual” and even fluid sexuality, rubbing our faces in it by not making it into a big deal, director Alain Guiraudie (“No Rest for the Brave,” “The King of Escape”) likes to use sexuality as a way to speak about other issues.

Guiraudie isn’t the first to explore the similarities between desire and danger. But “Stranger by the Lake” is also about something specific, less trodden-upon. Michel’s secret homicidal leanings, along with his general sense of unease and mystery, stand in for the unknowability of other people, and the fear that comes with early relationships. Franck is attracted to Michel, but he’s both drawn to and afraid of taking their love to a more serious level. Michel’s murderous streak could be replaced by a weird kink or a moderately irksome psychological defect — something that keeps us from wholeheartedly embracing and giving one’s life to another.

Human interaction in “Stranger by the Lake” is fraught with pesky ambiguities. Witness Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao), a portly and by all appearances straight divorcee who hangs by a remote part of the lake, and strikes a platonic (or is it?) conversational relationship with Franck. Everything, from the sex to the relationships to the genre elements, is in a bothersome but no less captivating state of flux.


Drive charged in fatal hit and run, police…

The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for a fatal hit and run in Manhattan last weekend. Doohee Cho, 33, was hit…


Mayor de Blasio raises minimum wage for some…

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Tuesday morning that will raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private companies that receive more…


3 myths about the working poor

Linda Tirado works to debunk some common stereotypes about the working poor in her new book, "Hand to Mouth."


Lawsuit funding advances: friend or foe?

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Many plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their lawsuit or legal claim often find themselves in a tricky financial…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…


Interview: Metro chats with filmmaker Meir Kalmanson, man…

A New York filmmaker hands out smiles to its residents.


TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 30: 'Selfie,' 'Utopia'…

'Selfie' This modern day take on the "My Fair Lady" story stars John Cho in the Henry Higgins role. Perhaps instead of "the rain in…


Can't-miss weekend events continue to attract the masses

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Earlier this summer, the Firefly Music Festival drew crowds of tens of thousands of people to Dover, Delaware.…


Mets 2014 report card

The Mets wrapped up their eight straight season without a playoff appearance last weekend. Needless to say, they fell a bit short of general manager…


NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb


Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.


3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…


Products that support breast cancer awareness and research

Asics GT-1000, $100 Asics’ third pink collection in collaboration with Christina Applegate’s Right Action for Women includes this pink-accented version of its best-selling GT-1000 3…


Dr. Marisa Weiss: Where we stand on breast…

As an oncologist and a survivor herself, Dr. Marisa Weiss knows the urgency felt by those diagnosed with breast cancer. Genetic testing has accelerated the…


Bees' stingers hold new hope for cancer cure

A promising new lead in the search for a cancer cure has turned up in a place that most people naturally avoid. A team from…


Emily Henderson on small space design

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us how to upgrade our cramped quarters.