Main cast: Pierre Deladonchamps (Franck), Christophe Paou (Michel), and Patrick d’Assumçao (Henri)
Director: Alain Guiraudie
Stranger by the Lake is described as a “thriller”, but frankly, I find it a crushing bore. Mind you, I never thought I’d say this for a movie where the male leads are naked almost all the time, showing pee-pees and all, but trust the French to inflict this kind of nonsense on the world.
There is this place by the lake, where men come to swim, sunbathe in the nude, and sneak off into the nearby woods to have sex. Franck comes here looking for a good time, and he has his eyes on Michel. Even witnessing Michel drown a man doesn’t deter Franck from wanting to be with Michel. Meanwhile, Franck meets the overweight and depressed Henri, who claims to be on a vacation after breaking up with his wife, and strikes up a friendship with Henri. Henri claims that he is not interested in sex, he just wants to admire the view, and Franck doesn’t understand him at all.
I suppose Henri is supposed to represent one side of desire – the craving for stability, companionship, devotion while Michel is supposed to represent self-destructive obsession. Unfortunately, the characters are so flat and emotionless, I end up not caring one bit for any of these people. Their constant nudity isn’t even attractive – while there are some nice flesh on display, even the fittest guys here clearly neglect to give their legs a workout, and the end result are ridiculously twiggy legs that are not every nice to look at. Beware, parents (and take note, kids) – there are a couple of hardcore explicit scenes here (oral sex and ejaculation, all done with body doubles according to press materials) and there are many scenes of simulated sex. Normally I’d be thrilled, but here, I may as well be watching a gynecological examination in action. Everything feels clinical, dry, boring even with all the pee-pees flopping at the camera.
The worst sin committed by the people behind this movie is the ridiculously slow pacing. The camera would pan on the rolling clouds for three minutes, then on the trees for another few minutes, before slowly moving to the road and follow Franck’s car as he drives to his cruising spot. Sometimes, the camera would just focus on the trees at various random intervals for so long, and I suspect it’s just one scene being reused again because this entire movie takes place in one single setting. It’s a low budget flick, and I won’t be surprised if all the nudity is an excuse to keep wardrobe budget to a minimum, as these guys sport two changes of tops at most while wearing the same pants throughout the whole film… or what fifteen or so minutes of them being clothed, that is. I’d think they would zoom in on a pee-pee if they are so desperate to fill the movie with long-drawn scenes of nothing happening, but maybe the actors demand higher pay if their pee-pees are going to be zoomed in up close more often.
Stranger by the Lake is pretty much seven-eighths long boring draggy scenes, clinical and mostly simulated sex scenes, and the main cast all looking bored and constipated (probably due to all the sand and stone getting stuck between their butt cheeks, I’d wager); the remaining one-eighth is the credit rolling after a laughably dumb last minute “Ooh, some action, so that this movie can be considered a thriller instead of a sad porn-wannabe on sedatives!” drama. The really sad thing here is that all that nudity and sex scenes should at the very least be fun enough to make up for the lack of everything else, but the people behind this movie can’t even get that right. It’s a shame.