Reviewed by rjrowson
on 29/09/2014 15:18

In ‘Stranger by the Lake’ we find ourselves at a cruising spot where one day runs into the next, as languid and naked bodies swim in the lake, talk about nothing, and have sex with strangers. Not even a murder is enough to disturb the tranquillity in Alain Guiraudie’s sublime film.\\r\\n\\r\\nWe are following Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a regular at the cruising spot, who strikes up a platonic friendship with the out-of-place Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao). These two sit in this idyllic spot, discussing their lives on the outside, something that the audience is never privy to. There is a calming effect of this relationship that cuts through the tension present in the other scenes. One central piece of their discussions is Franck’s growing obsession with the elusive and ruggedly handsome Michel (Christophe Paou), who has just begun frequenting the area. \\r\\n\\r\\nAlmost 20 minutes into the film, Franck witnesses a murder; one man drowning another in the middle of the lake. We see the act take place from the perspective of Franck. Not only is this scene a beautiful and masterful centrepiece to the movie, it also acts as a catalyst to the preceding events. The rest of the film flits between Franck’s affair with Michel and the investigation into the murder, two things that coincide in many respects. This mirroring is accentuated by the presence of Henri, who is still calmly sitting on the edge of things. \\r\\n\\r\\nExceptional circumstances meander along slowly, and the tone of the film doesn’t seem to shift even with the threat of danger lingering. It’s tense and suspenseful, but moreover there’s a strange stillness to the film. At one point the investigator is talking to Franck, trying to eschew some information from him. In response to Franck’s silence, the investigator tellingly pleads him to ‘show some concern, if only for yourself’. This calls out the strangeness of Franck’s reaction, which seems too passive to be prudent. Even the picture of passivity, Henri, implores the same from Franck at one point, telling him point blank that Michel is trouble. The etiquette between the characters might explain this numbness, but it could also be seen as a projection on the act of cruising itself. \\r\\n\\r\\nThe subtle performances are essential in retaining the atmosphere. Deladonchamps is wonderful as the innocent and intriguing Franck, he is both strong and innocent, and his actions, though frustrating, don’t feel uncharacteristic or unbelievable. Paou as Michel is a dangerous presence from the start, thanks to a sultry and unstable performance, giving the film it’s unflinching tension. Levity is then brought to the film through d’Assumçao’s portrayal of Henri, as the man on the back seat, but fully engaged and the voice of reason towards the end. Henri’s actions in fact push the film towards its conclusion, which is as suspenseful as the previous two hours. The drama unfolds, but the film remains beautiful from start to finish. \\r\\n