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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Stranger by the Lake review: a cautionary tale about bad boys

Stranger by the Lake yellow light Christophe Paou Pierre Deladonchamps

As an exercise in style, this minimalist noir erotic thriller is pretty cool. But it loses its way somewhere around the midpoint and never quite finds it again.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The guys I like are always taken,” laments handsome Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) to his new pal, the much older sad-sack Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao); the two have drifted into a comfortable friendship at the idyllic lakeside where both men are spending their summer vacation. It’s guys-only at this secluded part of the lake, a cruising spot for gay men, and Franck, from afar, has his eye on the bronze demigod Michel (Christophe Paou: The Affair of the Necklace), who of course appears to have paired off with someone else. But, perhaps, not permanently… so could Franck have a shot after all? As an exercise in style, writer-director Alain Guiraudie’s minimalist noir is pretty cool: the film never gets farther from the lakeside than the parking area through the good-for-cruising woods, and Franck’s erotic adventure with the inscrutable Michel — whom Franck knows is a very dangerous man even before Franck ever speaks to him — is utterly unembellished by any sort of filmmaking frills: there’s no soundtrack, no tricksy camerawork, nothing to detract from the disaster we presume is headed Franck’s way as he lets his desire get the better of him. As an emotional thriller, however, the film left me uncomfortable in a way I don’t think it intends. Because while this is clearly a story sympathetic to gay men, one that is frank about homosexuality and homosexual sex to the point of being almost unnecessarily pornographic about it, it also comes across as an indictment of the more salacious aspects of the “scene,” such as the anonymity of cruising. For all the real sex onscreen, Stranger by the Lake isn’t sexy: desperate loneliness is the primary pitch of the film, and even that’s fine: lots of people of every orientation use random sex with strangers as a way to cope, often unsatisfactorily, with loneliness. But it sometimes veers into near parody of “gay lifestyle” cautionary tales. Maybe that would be okay, too. It feels to me, though, that Guiraudie loses his way somewhere around the middle of the film and never quite finds it again.

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Stranger by the Lake (2014)
US/Can release: Jan 24 2014
UK/Ire release: Feb 21 2014

MPAA: not rated (but would be NC-17)
BBFC: rated 18 (contains strong real sex)

viewed in 2D
viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • RogerBW

    I’ve spoken with guys who were in the scene in the seventies, and they look at gay kids today, and they’re split between “you have no idea about all the classic gay culture you’re missing” and “thank goodness you don’t have to do what we did”.

  • ♡ Cupcakes ♡

    Do you believe the director deserved to win best director at cannes? So this kindda reminded me of Blue Is The Warmest Color cause of the sex. Which one did you like more and what do you give each on a scale of 0-10?

  • Rianna Esquivas

    Curious about this, too.

  • Not having seen the other films eligible, I couldn’t possibly comment on the Cannes award.

    Blue and this are wildly different sorts of movies. I wasn’t overly fond of either, but generally I prefer suspense to romance. So I liked this one a little more… or disliked it a little less, is probably more accurate.

    I give Blue a 4.876 and Lake a 5.382. Yes, I pulled those numbers out of my ass. Because what does that matter? How could that possibly make any difference?

  • Rianna Esquivas

    Seems to me that you basically gave both of them a 5 (average, I presume?) It makes no difference, but for some reason i find the number system easier to comprehend (don’t get me wrong there’s NOTHING incomprehensible about the stoplight system, it’s just that the range is too wide) so yeah, i’m probably gonna ask about your number rating on a bunch of other films in the future. Not that it matters, cause it’ll probably just take you 2 seconds to think, type, and comment.

    thanksies for answering :->

  • Please don’t ask me to give number ratings for films. If I had any interest in doing so, I would already be doing it.

  • Bluejay

    Why so concerned about the number ratings? Why not just read the review and figure out how MaryAnn feels about the film based on her words?

  • Rianna Esquivas

    I do read the review before commenting, that is how I know what she thinks, and what to ask in the comments. The reason I asked for number ratings in a couple of films is because the stoplight system seems pretty vague. Some rotten films are above some fresh films in the yellow section,(ex. Blue got a yellow, but had a fully negative review…) and in the red & green section I can’t tell whether the film is receiving extreme praise/disapproval. So basically i just ask for a 0-10 cause it makes things easier to understand. Let me repeat myself, YES, I read the reviews.

  • Bluejay

    in the red & green section I can’t tell whether the film is receiving extreme praise/disapproval.

    But the review will tell you whether MaryAnn is giving it extreme praise or disapproval.

    I don’t think MaryAnn systematically compares each film to every film she’s ever seen when she color-ranks it. A Yellow for one film doesn’t mean the same thing as a Yellow for another. If she gives a Yellow today to a film she mostly liked, does she really have to remember that, years ago, she gave a Green to a film she liked less? Maybe her tastes changed. Maybe she became more (or less) accepting of certain elements. The review itself tells me how enthusiastic she is about a film, and what her reasons are, and helps me decide whether I’d be interested in seeing it.

    If numbers make you more comfortable, that’s fine. But I don’t think you’re going to get a rigid, systematic number system here.

  • Movies cannot be boiled down to a number. Sorry. Maybe other critics feel they can. I don’t.

  • Bluejay

    By the way, Rianna: your issues, interests, and writing mannerisms are very similar to Cupcake’s. If you’re the same person, I hope you’re here to play nicely this time.

  • LaSargenta

    0-10 rating systems are giving people precision without a guarantee of accuracy. To understand what the review says, one has to read the review. Reviews are not objective and neither are number-based ratings systems. The latter just uses a precise symbol to approximate an opinion.

  • Rianna Esquivas

    I am not cupcakes.

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