Review first published (in a slightly shorter version) by Film4.
Synopsis: It’s passion à la plage, as writer/director Alain Guiraudie (The King Of Escape) relocates William Friedkin’s Cruising to the French lakeside.
Review: Every day of the summer, unemployed Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) parks his car in a makeshift lot on a dirt road, and heads down the rough path to a lakeside beach, where he and others bask in the sun and cruise for gay sex. If this littoral domain of desire comes between water and woods, then the small community of men who frequent it also demarcates a variety of limits.
The older Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao), recently left by his girlfriend, is not interested in sex, and never even dips his toe in the water for fear of the 15-foot catfish rumoured to lurk beneath the surface. Another man is there strictly to watch, vigorously masturbating near the copulating couples but never actually participating. Yet another (Gilbert Traina) insists on the use of condoms. Franck, however, never seems to draw a line: he swims where the water is deepest, he is open to unprotected sex, and his attraction to Michel (Christophe Paou) seems only to increase after Franck witnesses the moustachioed Selleck-a-like drown another lover. Yet with a police inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) circling, lies compounding, and Franck’s dangerous obsession looking more and more like a death wish, the film starts to transgress its own carefully delimited routines of daylight till dusk, and Franck’s wish to spend the night with Michel edges closer.
Extreme yet measured, explicit yet naturalistic, menacing yet wry, Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake is a Liebestod orchestrated not to music, but to the sounds of birds, insects and sweaty bodies engaged in all manner of intercourse. While the inspector wonders aloud why men would continue gathering and fucking in a place where one of their companions was recently found dead, Guiraudie lays out – and slyly banalises – a desperate, aching love that knows few bounds.
In A Nutshell: Desire, danger, dicks and death – Guiraudie uses the water’s edge as a playground for hedonistic predators and willing prey.