Monday, April 21, 2014


I've said it before on here and I'll say it again - anyone familiar with modern French art house cinema who denies Bresson's influence is an idiot. These days when I say things like; "the film was very French", all that really means is that it was very Bressonian - prolific, stripped down and (intentionally) emotionless yet somehow still full of emotion at the same time. I'm aware he's not the only major influence on today's French auteurs. Charbol, Godard, Melville, Truffaut and a few others are all also highly influential, but these days I see Bresson in people's work more than anyone else. From Camille Claudel, 1915 & Hors Satan (both directed by Bruno Dumont who was once considered the "heir to Bresson") to The PornographerThe House Of Tolerance (both directed by Bertrand Bonello who had his actors watch Bresson films to prepare before filming), Bresson's dent, both major & minor, on modern French art house is undeniable.
Stranger By The Lake is just another recent example of this...

Have you ever wondered what Cruising would be like had Bresson directed it instead of William Friedken? Chances are you probably haven't, but still...that's pretty much what Stranger By The Lake is. In fact, it’s the kind of film that makes you reevaluate something like Cruising and how distasteful it is (even though I do enjoy watching Crusing from time to time). In Alain Guiraude's latest, we follow "Franck" - a young guy cruising through life both figuratively and literally. Not only is he content with being unemployed at the moment, but he also spends his summer taking daily trips to a notorious gay cruising spot (the lake of Sainte Croix). The only problem is that there's a serial killer on the loose targeting all the gay men at this cruising spot. And to make things extra strange, Franck discovers who the killer is early on but instead of going to the police, he starts a relationship with him (this mysterious killer has no idea Franck knows his secret). In the beginning we're lead to believe the mystery of this film is finding out who the killer is but that's revealed within the first 20 minutes (I haven't given any spoilers away). The real mystery is the relationship that develops between Franck and the unnamed killer. Will Franck be next? Why is he so drawn to a cold blooded murderer? Is he suicidal? Or is he just drawn to the danger?

For a film with such deadpan & sparse dialogue, Stranger By The Lake has a sharp script. Early on in the story Franck befriends a local man, "Henri", who hangs around just outside the cruising spot, even though he's straight, and through the course of the film Franck & Henri engage in dialogue that challenges sexuality, friendship & love.
The most interesting part of Stranger By The Lake for me was the part of the story where we're introduced the police inspector whose hired to investigate the killings. Because he's heterosexual and not familiar with "cruising", he's not only investigating a murder, but he's also investigating a particular lifestyle. I was immediately reminded of Harvey Keitel in both; Clockers & Bad Timing. In both films Harvey Keitel plays a cop that’s not only investigating a crime, but a culture/lifestyle as well. In Clockers, Keitel is trying to solve a crime in an urban environment that's foreign to him while in Bad Timing he's trying to make sense of a couple's torrid relationship. In Stranger By The Lake, this nameless inspector asks the local "cruisers" just as many questions surrounding their sexuality as he does questions surrounding the crime.

Now...although Stranger By The Lake is an early contender for PINNLAND EMPIRE's Top 10 of 2014, Alain Guiraude did something I absolutely HATE that so many filmmakers are guilty of...
At the Q&A after the screening I went to, he downplayed the homosexuality in the film and was very dismissive towards all the questions surrounding that topic. I'd understand Guiraude's frustration/dismissive nature had Stranger By The Lake been a story with characters who just so happened to be gay, and it had nothing to do with the plot. But the story takes place exclusively at a gay cruising spot and is about a killer who only targets gay men. The film also quietly touches on issues like denial & self-hatred. Without giving away too much, it could be interpreted that the person committing the murders in Stranger By The Lake has some serious self-hate/inner turmoil about their sexuality (although we aren't made to feel any kind of sympathy for this person, because...well...they kill people). There's an emphasis on condom use and talk of HIV. Even the sex in this is extra graphic, unedited & unapologetic, yet Guiraude, said things like "I don't know if Stranger By The Lake has anything to do with homosexuality" and "I didn't really think about things like homosexuality when making this" 
Can filmmakers just stop doing stuff like this? Guiraude's obvious denial/borderline trolling is like George Lucas saying Star Wars has nothing to do with space or science fiction. Again, I know filmmakers (especially art house filmmakers) don't like to have their work oversimplified. I also understand wanting to be progressive and not being boxed in as the director who made a "gay film", but sometimes you gotta call things as they are. On some level, Stranger By The Lake is a comment on gay repression and society's aggression towards gay people (specifically gay men). That's not even an interpretation as much as it is a clear fact. I don't care what the person responsible for the film says either. Stranger By The Lake isn't Alain Guiraude's first time touching on homosexuality either. His 2009 feature; King Of Escape, deals with a gay man who falls for a teenage girl. His earlier film; Time Has Come (2005) deals with gay characters living in a made up/imaginary world. Any time Guiraude, who is gay, touches on homosexuality in his work, it's always done in some kind of challenging way.

Seeing this in a theater with a group of gay men (one of whom was a friend) really heightened the themes in the film for me as I imagine it may have for them as well. I hate to be presumptuous but given that this is clearly about aggression towards homosexuality on some level, I'm sure quite a few of the gay men in the theater have faced some form of aggression, oppression or ignorance in their life which makes Stranger By The Lake even more impactful.


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