In light of the rise of the homophobic Far Right across Europe this past weekend there seems like no more apt a film to talk about than Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake.
Guiraudie’s film was a staple of the festival circuit in 2013, topping many a ‘best of’ list, winning a number of prestigious awards and eventually being named Cahiers du cinéma’s film of the year.
Stranger By The Lake plays for the most part like a leisurely-paced Hitchcockian thriller, with the drama set against the kind of backdrop that wouldn’t be out of place in one of Éric Rohmer’s Moral Tales. Beautifully shot rich digital photography captures a secret world of rendezvous and murder, as a killer strikes in the midst of an idyllic cruising spot for gay men. Death is witnessed from afar, ala Rear Window, and in a single shot. This lone and uninterrupted section of film captures at once both the moment of discord and the return to normality. In the wake of this act of killing that takes place on water, the offending party casually dresses and collects his belongings after committing the act, without the camera blinking or pausing for breath. The villain is charming, ala Patricia Highsmith, her Talented Mr. Ripley being the obvious comparison, but whose Strangers On A Train Hitchcock himself adapted. The title of that film and this sync up nicely.
Stranger By The Lake is ultimately concerned with power, and themes thereof it. The appeal of the powerful to an outsider, both psychologically and physiologically (much is made of one character’s athletic body), with his aura the element which wins over the film’s protagonist Franck. The fate of our hero is sealed just as early as the dead man in the lake’s is, with his car, the last parked by the scene of the crime, alerting the killer to his presence.
Like an episode of Columbo, the viewer learns precisely who has done what as a part of the film’s set up. That doesn’t matter though, for the film is in the response and the fallout. For the duration of the film we don’t leave the lake, or the surrounding woods in to which the men of leisure on the look retreat when seeking intimacy. The repetition of the daily routine isn’t even broken by as sinister an act as murder. While there is a sense of escalation as things play out, with the film building to the kind of climax one might expect (pun kind of intended) Guiraudie pulls back at the last minute, closing the scene indefinitely. The typical Hollywood “To-The-Rescue!!!” has seemingly already been exhausted. We’re left with Franck, alone or not alone in the woods, his future uncertain and finally drawn away from routine.