Feb 17, 2014

Stranger by the Lake

Undoubtedly, unsimulated sex is a dubious gimmick that has been used by European arthouse directors, namely that of the ill-restrained yet pedantic French persuasion, for sometime now and has had some rather preposterous and strangely banal results as demonstrated by mostly worthless works like Virginie Despentes’ Baise-moi (2000) aka Fuck Me, Michael Winterbottom’s 9 Songs (2004), Carlos Reygadas’ Battle in Heaven (2005) aka Batalla en el Cielo, and John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus (2006), but recently I got quite a shock after viewing one such cum-covered work, L'Inconnu du lac (2013) aka Stranger by the Lake directed by French auteur Alain Guiraudie (No Rest for the Brave aka Pas de repos pour les braves, The King of Escape aka Le Roi de l'évasion), as it proved pornographic scenes can be utilized effectively in films if done in a passing and nuanced fashion that adds to the overall essence of a cinematic work. Although I am not familiar with any of auteur Guiraudie’s previous celluloid efforts, I can safely say that Stranger by the Lake is nearly immaculate in its sometimes macabre minimalistic construction as a gut-wrenching work that manages to transfer the homicidal homo themes of William Friedkin’s leather-fag slasher flick Cruising (1980) to a sunny and scenic frog lake. The gently paced story of a lapsed twink (or 'twunk') who begins cruising an almost otherworldly lake and eventually falls for a stoic yet unhinged Freddy Mercury-look-alike, only to soon learn that his best beau is a psychopathic murderer who killed his last lover, Stranger by the Lake is a strikingly charming psychosexual thriller of the semi-politically-incorrect sort that subtly highlights the impossibility of homosexual monogamy and how lust trumps love in a recklessly wanton world where depraved dudes seek their own little sunny Sodom in public. Originally intended to be a heterosexual film, Stranger by the Lake eventually evolved into a fag-themed flick after Guiraudie decided the original story did not work and that such a seemingly senseless tale would have been a grave mistake considering women do not typically go cruising for anonymous sex in public areas. As someone whose girlfriend somewhat recently took me to a local park to show the social epidemic of mostly redneck closeted homosexuals cruising around the area and audibly buggering in the bushes and disappearing in the woods, I found Stranger by the Lake to be an aesthetically misleading work of scenic sadomasochism that is quite comparable to a more recent Ulrich Seidl flick like Paradies: Liebe (2012) aka Paradise: Love, albeit with a more visceral and personalized soul (in fact, Guiraudie has cited it as a highly personal work) that does not make the copout mistake of detaching the viewer from the characters like so many European arthouse flicks tend to do. A Dogme 95-esque work (minus the shitty homevideo quality) that was shot by a mere 20 person crew (neither hairdressers nor makeup artists were used) and featuring no music (be it diegetic or non-diegetic) and only organic sounds (i.e. wind, water, etc.) that were shot on-location, The Stranger by the Lake demonstrates that, indeed, some modern day French filmmakers have souls, even if warped ones, hence why the work was named the No.1 film of 2013 by Cahiers du Cinéma.

Franck (Pierre de Ladonchamps) is a 30-something-year-old gay man that seems no more effeminate than the average heterosexual Frenchman (not that it says much) and he has just found his new favorite hideout in the form of an ethereal French lake with a rock beach surrounded by a forest where nudists and cruising cocksuckers wallow in less than sensationalistic exhibitionism amongst one another as if living on their own secluded poof planet. On his first day there, Franck watches men screw like wild animals in the woods, but more importantly, he meets a rather rotund gentleman named Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao) who is old enough to be his father. An old overweight fellow who not even the most depraved of shit-stabbers would touch with a ten-foot condom-covered dildo, Henri is mostly a voyeur who apparently used to cruise men in the company of his wife, but she left him and he seems no longer bold enough to approach other men for carnal pleasure, which seems largely the result of his lack of esteem. A closet queen, Henri cannot wrap his head around the fact that Franck is an out-of-the-closet cocksucker who has nil interest in men.  Indeed, there is certainly a wide and protruding generation gap between the two as old man Henri grew up at a time where homos got married and had kids, whereas Franck leads a self-indulgent life where he does not feel the need to hide his flagrant homosexuality.  As Franck explains to Henri, it is “always the same story, I always like those that are not available” and his experience at the lake proves to be no different as he falls for a semi-masculine man with a mustache with the unfortunate name Michel (Christophe Paou) who has a jealous queen of a ‘boyfriend’ named Pascal (François-Renaud Labarthe). Luckily for Franck, Pascal is soon drowned in the lake one night, but the problem is that Michel was the man responsible for committing the unprovoked murder. Before long, a prying detective named Damroder (Jérôme Chappatte) begins hanging around the lake to investigator the murder and Franck, who has just started a strictly sexual relationship with Michel, ends up lying to the cops to protect his new boy toy. Indeed, Franck actually witnessed the murder of Pascal by maniac Michel in the lake from afar, but that does not stop him from getting hot and heavy with a homicidal homo. Naturally, Franck develops a passionate romance with Michel that includes backwoods bareback sex, but he will not agree to meet him anywhere aside from the isolated cruising spot. Being a perennial voyeur who never engages in sex with the other cruisers because, as he himself states, “I’m alone because no one comes,” Henri has figured out everything regarding the murder and warns Franck, “In your shoes, I would be very scared,” but his words fall on deaf ears as the romantic twunk is totally unwilling to betray his lunatic lover, even if he cheats on him and allows some fat slob to suck him off. Eventually, Henri confronts Michel and lets him know that he is “not subtle” and that he knows he is the murderer. Seeming to have a death wish of sorts as a lonely man in love with the intangible (he confesses his love to Franck), Henri goes to the woods and looks back at Michel as if gesturing him to come kill him. And, indeed, Michel tears Henri apart and Franck finds his blood-soaked friend lying in a grass-covered ditch, dying. Franck runs further into the woods and Michel follows, even stabbing to death inspector Damroder on the way during a random forest run-in with the cop. While looking for Franck, Michel shouts about he only needs love and he even wants to spend the night with him. Despite everything, Franck eventually goes looking for Michel in the dark, but fails to elicit any response after routinely shouting his name. In an alternate ending to Stranger by the Lake that was filmed but not used in the film, Franck and Michel end up reuniting and driving away together in what is undoubtedly a deranged sort of happy ending.

Aside from the films of so-called New French Extremity auteur filmmakers Philippe Grandrieux (Sombre, La vie nouvelle aka A New Life, Un Lac), Gaspar Noé (I Stand Alone, Irréversible), Marina de Van (Dans ma peau aka In My Skin), and Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Camille Claudel 1915), Stranger by the Lake is one of the few contemporary frog films that has left any sort of impression on me in some time, thus demonstrating that, somewhat unfortunately, France is once again the dominant nation when it comes to true European national cinema. Undoubtedly, the genius of the film is that it is strikingly simplistic as a film set over an easy-to-follow ten-day period and set in a hermetic universe of self-destructive sexual deviance where the inhabitants have their own distinct language of gesture, thus making for a viscerally voyeuristic film where the viewer must interact with the characters whether they want to or not. Indeed, while featuring erect cocks ejaculating (the original 2 hour and 18 minute featured much more sex, but Alain Guiraudie thankfully opted for cutting much of it out) and incessant, unflattering nudity (including various scenes of a fat man named ‘Eric’ played by Mathieu Vervisch with a borderline micro-penis who passively masturbates while watching other men bugger), I would be hesitant to describe Stranger by the Lake as ‘queer cinema’ as it is a highly accessible work that transcends the best of reality TV and cinéma vérité in terms of transferring to the center of the aberrant action. While described by various reviewers as a ‘Hitchcockian thriller’ and whatnot, Stranger by the Lake is far too naturalistic, genuinely suffocating, anti-psychoanalytic (indeed, no quack Freudian symbolism and pop psychology here) to be compared to such innately contrived and fantasy-driven drivel. In short, Stranger by the Lake makes Hitchcock seem like a skilled theorist and artisan as opposed to an active artist with a penetrating artistic vision.  An uncompromising yet slightly open-ended character study about the innately irrational behavior associated with love, sex, and death, Stranger by the Lake is one of a few somewhat recent films that I have seen that dares to tackle homosexuality head on without resorting to pathetic poof social critiques about how society hates sodomites, but instead depicts it as the height of human sadomasochism where even a scenic lakeside beach is no escape from the perennial paradox that is human nature where some men long for love just as much as death and where others simply prefer to act as harbingers of death yet still need love. If nothing else, Stranger by the Lake demonstrates that, to steal a truism from Fassbinder, love is colder than death. Forget aesthetically impotent sentimentalist faggot shit like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend (2011), Alain Guiraudie managed to make a gay-themed film that can actually be enjoyed by people who do not feel the need to get involved in the cultural cold war against Russia and Putin sired by the heebs Hollywood and the gatekeepers of LGBT authortarianism. 

-Ty E

1 comment:

jervaise brooke hamster said...

Bloody disgusting fairys, KILL EM` ALL.