Critics' Pick

Stranger By The Lake (L'inconnu du lac) (NR)

Drama 92 min. January 24, 2014
By Melissa Anderson
For more than two decades, Alain Guiraudie has been unrivaled in depicting desires that upend convention, whether homo or hetero. Guiraudie's most sexually explicit and narratively taut work, Stranger by the Lake — which won the Best Director prize in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival -- is the first of his movies to have a stateside release. Though its structure is simple -- the film unfolds over 10 consecutive summer days, its action confined to the lake and the nearby grove where sex is sought — Stranger abounds with precision and detail, evinced not just in the spectacular visual composition but also in the observation of behavioral codes in carnally charged spaces. As Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) ogles an Adonis, we learn more about the particulars of meat-rack etiquette, rituals whose frequent incongruities Guiraudie often playfully, affectionately sends up. After orally servicing Franck, a tubby guy who often lurks in the woods with his hand down his shorts says, "You've got a great cock. Well, I gotta go," and the two shake hands. These droll moments balance the increasingly ominous tone, particularly after Franck, who's just jerked off with a guy in a Batman T-shirt, sees the hunk from the previous day drowning his lover in the lake. The murder seems to arouse Franck even more; two days after the crime, he and the homicidal stud (Christophe Paou) all but devour each other, deep-kissing, fellating, mutually masturbating, and bare-backing al fresco. As Eros becomes more inextricably bound up with Thanatos, the film takes a dimmer view of total sexual freedom. The last face we see is shrouded in darkness, but Stranger by the Lake itself is never less than incandescent.
Alain Guiraudie Pierre de Ladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d'Assumçao, Jérôme Chappatte, Mathieu Vervisch, Gilbert Traina, Emmanuel Daumas, Sébastien Badachaoui, Gilles Guérin, François-Renaud Labarthe Alain Guiraudie Sylvie Pialat Strand Releasing

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