Stranger By The Lake (18)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner19/02/2014

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 100 mins

Writer-director Alain Guiraudie's gripping French thriller puts the cock in Hitchcockian, thanks to a number of eye-wateringly explicit sex scenes, but it remains a gripping and superbly directed picture with something to say about the nature of infatuation and obsession.

What's it all about?
Written and directed by Alain Guiraudie, Stranger By The Lake (L'inconnu du Lac, original title fans) is set entirely at a picturesque lake that's both a naturist beach and a gay cruising site. Pierre Deladonchamps stars as Franck, a regular visitor to the spot who strikes up a friendship with overweight older man Henri (Patrick d'Assumcao), even though Henri always sits apart from everyone else and never removes his clothes.

As the summer progresses, Franck finds himself increasingly drawn to attractive, moustachioed Michel (Christophe Paou), but when Michel's current boyfriend (Renaud Labarthe) mysteriously disappears, Franck recalls seeing Michel pushing his boyfriend's head underwater and begins to wonder if he witnessed a murder. However, disturbingly, Franck finds his attraction to Michel increasing in tandem with his suspicion ...

The Good
Pierre Deladonchamps is excellent as Franck, a friendly, likeable character whose empathy is immediately apparent in his easy rapport with Henri and, later, even his act of kindness to the film's most hilariously pathetic character, Eric the Wanker (Mathieu Vervisch). Patrick d'Assumcao is equally good as Henri (he bears a strong resemblance to Gerard Depardieu) and Christophe Paou is genuinely chilling as the charismatic, dangerous Michel, a character Hitchcock would have been proud of.

Guiraudie's direction is assured throughout, expertly building tension and creating a powerful, erotically charged atmosphere through the use of a number of explicit sex scenes (fair warning: this isn't a film for the faint-hearted). Similarly, the superbly written script works as both suspense thriller and twisted love story, with several intriguing observations about infatuation and the nature of obsessive desire.

The Great
The film is also beautifully shot, courtesy of Claire Mathon's striking, sun-drenched cinematography that makes the most of its single location (including the surrounding woods where most of the sex takes place). The atmosphere is further heightened by a lack of incidental music, giving the film an unsettling feel that increases the sense of ever-present danger.

On top of that, the film also has a dark sense of humour and there are a number of blackly comic touches, most notably the running joke surrounding Eric the Wanker, who has a habit of popping up at inopportune moments and living up to his name.

Worth seeing?
The explicit sex means that this won't be for everyone, but Stranger by the Lake is a powerfully gripping, provocative and superbly directed thriller that is well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

Film Trailer

Stranger By The Lake (18)
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Content updated: 24/10/2017 03:20

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