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.


Is #JusticeForAvaLynn a case of bullying?

On Saturday, the hashtag #JusticeForAvaLynn became one of the trending topics on Twitter. Users circulated the above photo of 5-year-old AvaLynn, posted by her mother…


Terrorism could spread to US and Europe in…

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East,…


Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…


China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…


Joan Rivers on life support: Report

TMZ reports that comedian Joan Rivers has been placed on life support, "completely reliant on machines to stay alive." Rivers has been hospitalized since she…


What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…


Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.


3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.


NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.


Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.


VIDEO: Still not wearing sunscreen? You will after…

Sunscreen is possibly the most often repeated - and ignored - piece of skincare advice. But Thomas Leveritt took a different tactic. With a short…


Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…


Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.


Recipe: Samuel Adams beer-marinated grilled shrimp

Summer calls for two things: a cold beer and light food. Sam Adams' Latitude 48 IPA fairly bursts with citrus notes, making it an ideal marinade…