Stranger by the Lake (2013)
★★ / ★★★★
“Stranger by the Lake,” written and directed by Alain Giraudie, is beautiful-looking mystery thriller involving a murder in a lake that just so happens to be a gay cruising spot, but the screenplay is not deep enough to warrant a thorough psychological examination of its characters. As a result, one gets the impression that having unsimulated sex scenes is a mere gimmick, designed simply to capture the interest of its intended audience. Telling a compelling story is left by the wayside.
The picture is not without a sense of humor. For example, as a man walks toward the lakeside, the editing makes it appear as though the men already there are like a pack of wolves, constantly on the lookout for potential meat to go after. It works as a commentary about the gay community and objectification, especially toward younger men. The material might have benefited overall if it had more amusing and intelligent moments like this. Instead, we get numerous shots of naked men sunbathing.
The person who witnesses the murder is named Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps). Perhaps the only interesting element about him is the fact that he refuses to report what he had seen. The reason is because he has fallen in love with the murderer, Michel (Christophe Paou), prior to the decisive moment. By turning a blind eye, it is natural that we grow increasingly curious about Franck’s motivations. However, the way the character is written is quite bland and he is not given many interesting things to do or say. Halfway through, he turns into a bore.
Over time, I began to wonder about the writer-director’s own motivations. I questioned if he really wanted to tell a story first and then attach sex scenes around it, or the other way around. While I welcome nudity and sex in the movies, especially when the subject matter demands them, I found the usage here to be gratuitous and distracting. The final product might have been a potent thriller if more time and effort had been given to develop the characters fully, construct well-executed chases, get us to feel morally guilty for following a protagonist who fails to do the right thing time and again.
“L’inconnu du lac” is just another sexually explicit but inconsequential LGBTQ-themed picture even though it may not seem like it at first glance. Look closely. Although it does take some risks, like daring to have an unconventional ending, such bold decisions do not make up for a lack of suspense, banal dialogue, and characters we do not feel we understand inside and out.