Stranger by the Lake left me stranded. While I had some connection to film, especially with supporting character Henri, I couldn’t quite grasp it. It focuses on a lake in rural France that gay men use for “cruising”, a ritual of searching for casual sex partners. Stranger by the Lake mainly follows Frank, who begins a dominantly sexual relationship with a rugged man named Michel. They never meet outside of the cruising lake and its nearby woods; in fact, the film never leaves this setting. Secondary to Frank’s sexual relationship with Michel is his friendship with the far more interesting Henri, who goes to the lake not for sex but for companionship. Henri’s loneliness and warmth are fascinating to observe in this setting. There’s also a murder sub-plot, which felt somewhat out of place, although I imagine it may grow on me with time.
A general sense of confusion fills me when I think about Stranger by the Lake. What is this movie about and why are these scenes tied together? I’m still not quite sure, but reading an interview with writer/director Alain Guiraudie helped. He said that he “[created] sequences that combined the emotions of being in love with the obscenity of sex, without pitting the nobility of feelings on the one hand, against the trivial function of sex organs on the other." When reflecting on this, I can see the film’s strength in conveying the odd yet intense combination of passion and dispassion present in the cruising ritual, but I needed Guiraudie to help me get there.
Henri’s character helped me stay with the film, as it exposed the loneliness behind Frank’s actions. However mostly, I’m befuddled by the tedium of the film. Ultimately, I recognize that there’s a depth to Stranger by the Lake that I’m blind to. I can hear it in Guiraudie’s words, and the exciting reactions from some critics, but it escapes me. If the subject matter sounds interesting to you, go for it. I hope you won't be left astray as I was.