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on March 7, 2014
What do you do when you witness a murder being committed but become sexually attracted to the killer? This is the dilemma that faces Franck when, in the twilight hours at a gay cruising spot, he watches stunned and fascinated as Michel drowns his lover. Alain Guiraudie's breakthrough movie is a mini-classic that slowly hooks you in with its gradual build up of suspense until its dramatic, inconclusive but brilliant ending. You could say there is not a lot we learn of the protagonists but that's very much in keeping with the mysterious men who spend their days in the woods and the lake searching for anonymous sexual encounters. This could be the main reason for Franck's desire for the homicidal Michel, the sexual fear of danger and the unknown. Henri, a portly "straight" man who sits by himself until befriended by Franck, is the only character who seems to have another life although even that could be misleading. I think the secret of the film's intrigue is the fact it never leaves the lake. We watch as the same cars arrive each day, park in the same spots, their inhabitants take up their usual locations, persist in keeping some sort of etiquette whether by the water or cruising in the woods. People who break the rules are frowned upon. It's a little world inside another little world. Seeing a scattering of mostly naked gay men spending their days at the lake is not unlike seeing the same men spending an afternoon at the golf course. These are male rituals and it all appears rather innocuous until the expected "action" occurs in the woods surrounding the lake, leading to more male rituals. Be warned there are two or three very explicit sex scenes that could have been lifted from a gay porn flick.

As mentioned before this is one of those films that slowly creeps up on you and the ending is electric. In many ways it reminded me, in a strange way, of Antonioni's Blow-Up, the way it all unravels, perhaps with the added touch of a Fassbinder influence. The acting by Pierre Deladonchamps as Franck, Christophe Paou as Michel (looking like a cross between Mark Spitz and a Falcon porn star of the 70s) and Patrick d'Assumcao as the lonely Henri is exemplary for this type of film. Director Guiraudie even appears as one of the lakeside participants. A fine film that deserves more than one viewing to fully appreciate its excellence.
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on February 15, 2014
...it probably would look something like this. This is a striking film that just has catapulted director Alain Guiraudie into the front ranks of world cinema. Whether he will stay there only time will tell, but he has just made everyone pay attention with this work. An award winner at Cannes, voted the best film of 2013 by the Cahiers du Cinema, it is a diabolical delight contrasting a formalist technique with a deeply unsettling storyline.

A man thinks he sees a murder committed at a gay cruising spot. Unlike James Stewart, who is in an analogous predicament in "Rear Window", the witness starts dating the suspect. Complications ensue.

Sexually explicit, psychologically disturbing and with a closing image that will haunt you for days, this is a startlingly original film that is not for the faint of heart. But it is also one you are unlikely to forget.
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Alain Guiraudie's French puzzler "Stranger by the Lake" is a surprisingly straightforward story that somehow still manages to resist easy definition. Like many, I was lured into the film by the usual devices. The DVD packaging and critical accolades promise a thriller with the overused (and seldom accurate) adjective "Hitchcockian" being employed. Being a lover of Hitchcock's work, I find it a somewhat lazy film criticism to stamp every quasi-thriller as a work reminiscent of Hitchcock. In fact, to even call "Stranger by the Lake" a thriller might be using language that will upset some viewers looking for breakneck pacing or huge dramatic moments. Instead, this story unfolds rather languidly. I'm not saying this to be critical, but to help realign viewer expectations. Not much happens in the scope of the film from an action standpoint, it is rather the unusual choices that characters make that fuel any inherent drama or conflict.

Set at a lakeside cruising spot for homosexual patrons, the movie introduces us to Franck (Pierre Daladonchamps who won a Cesar Award as Most Promising Actor for this role). Franck is an attractive guy who draws easy attention, but he seems somewhat aloof from it all. He befriends an odd man who distances himself from the crowd and secretly pines for the beach lothario (Christophe Paou) with a certain Marlboro Man appeal. He is not immune to the antics of casual sex in the bushes, but his heart belongs to Paou despite the fact that he barely knows the other man. One night he witnesses an attack of brutality that should have him running for the hills. But instead of recoiling in horror, he steadfastly remains on course in his courtship of Paou. When the police start to investigate, it further strains the romantic coupling and everyone but Dalandonchamps can see the impending doom of the scenario.

I have been purposefully vague in my synopsis of the movie, the product description already reveals too many spoilers. Where do you draw the line in matters of the heart? That is one of the essential questions posed by the film's screenplay as the central character decides to ignore a heinous act he has witnessed to pursue the man of his dreams. The fact that the attraction seems to be purely physical is also particularly alarming in the choice! The movie is largely shot from afar as if the camera was a voyeuristic part of the experience. The film features copious amounts of male nudity as well as extremely graphic moments of sex. And the movie moves at a purposeful pace, but with a palpable sense of dread. I liked "Stranger by the Lake" as an unsettling psychological character study. It concludes on a relatively open-ended note that different people might interpret differently, and that may upset some viewers. But as we only know the characters vaguely from their afternoons at the beach (the action never leaves the cruise spot), it felt like an extremely natural choice that reinforced the nature of anonymity in just such a world. KGHarris, 5/13.
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on May 26, 2014
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) spends the summer frequenting an all-male nude beach where men come to sunbathe and to engage in casual sex in the woods nearby. One quiet evening, he secretly witnesses a man, Michel (Christophe Paou), whom he briefly met earlier in the day, drown another young man, perhaps his lover, in the lake. Despite this knowledge, Franck finds himself so intensely and inexplicably drawn to the killer that he establishes a relationship and quickly begins falling in love with him.

Laced with highly-charged erotic undertones, "Stranger By the Lake" is a low-keyed, multi-leveled thriller whose dark and disturbing themes simmer beneath a deceptively simple surface. The sex is certainly graphic in its depiction - no simulation going on here, folks - but it is germane to the storytelling and integral to the theme.

Written and directed by Alain Guiraudie, this psycho-sexual chiller achieves an uber-creepy tone without resorting to a single cliché associated with the overworked genre. Heck, there isn't even any music to helpfully alert us to the story's moments of greatest intensity. The movie creates suspense through the observation of character rather than through overt action or violence, with the placidity of the setting placed in stark relief against the grimness of the crime.

Except for the fact that it's in color, "Stranger By the Lake" has much of the look and feel of an early Michelangelo Antonioni film, what with its languid pacing, the artful minimalism of its shots, and the obliqueness of its storytelling and characters. In fact, what's most disturbing about the characters is their seemingly utter detachment not only from the society around them but from their own emotions and any semblance of a moral code. They seem to float freely about in a world of their own making, one in which they live only for the absorption of the moment and in which they are cut off completely from any meaningful human connection. In a way, casual sex is merely an external manifestation of the much more serious underlying condition of angst and alienation (a favorite theme of Antonioni's work, in fact) that's come to define their mode of living and, by extension, much of modern society itself. But is it really possible for an individual to remain that detached from everyone and everything, or is that just a pose designed to keep us from having to actively engage in life with all its attended complications and messiness?

Guiraudie raises the question, then leaves it up to the audience to come up with its own answer. For that is the way with "Stranger By the Lake." It disturbs us in so many different ways, while at the same time refusing to spoon-feed us or to play to our expectations as so many movies routinely do. It assumes that we are mature enough to handle both its raw sexuality and its super-dark vision of the world. And, for that alone, any true movie-lover should be immensely grateful.
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on July 9, 2014
This, obviously, is a very French movie. The scenery is beautiful and the camera often lingers on it longer than necessary. There is a lot of male nudity and gay sex if that appeals to you. I could not call this a murder mystery in the usual sense because it is very clear who the murderer is right from the start. The mystery is why the protagonist acts as he does.
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on May 25, 2014
Started off interesting, but advanced to really weird near the end of the movie. In the trailer it was compared to Hitchcock, but in my humble opinion it was not even in the same league.

I have no problem with subtitles, but this film lacked continuity and purpose to keep me wanting to bond with any of the lead characters.

This film was more strange than it was compelling and was not inline with my expectations established from watching the trailer.
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on October 24, 2015
Such a unique movie. Loved the setting for it, couldn't have found a better place. The characters were engaging along with the scenery. It does make one question how far would you go for love? Great thriller!
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on June 10, 2014
I saw this film for the first time at the Busan International Film Festival in Busan, South Korea. I liked it then, and I still like it. I gave it three stars mainly because I don't really understand the ending. The main character's love for the murderer seems to be quite toxic, maybe along the lines of Bonny's love for Clyde. That is something I don't understand in real life much less in a movie. However, I would still recommend this movie, especially for people who like gay-themed movies. But be forewarned that the movie does contain some hard-core pornographic scenes.
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on April 14, 2015
A man smitten by the attractive looks of a stranger starts up a relationship with him on the beach and then suddenly realizes that his beloved is not all he seems to be. This movie got rave reviews and was even compared to Hitchcock and some of his masterpieces and while this is okay I do not see the resemblance at all. The dialogue is fair, really nothing to brag about and the plot to me at least is a little thin, the nudity however is pretty good and the sex scenes between the two main characters is pretty hot and intense.
I just did not buy the story and the ending to me at least did not wrap things up. I learned more about the ending and what was going on from Wikipedia than the actual story here. It's worth a rent but it is def a one time see and not much else.
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on March 1, 2014
A beautiful and atmospheric gay themed thriller set amidst lush surroundings of a beautiful lake which rekindles memories of Hitchcockian masterpieces. Dark and intriguing study of a dangerous attraction and just how far one would go to live his obsession. One of the better films in the recent years, gay themed or otherwise. Just a heads up that the film contains scenes of graphic nudity and sex.
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