Friday, February 21, 2014

Short Take: Stranger by the Lake (2013, France)

dir. Alain Guiraudie

With precision and rigor, Guiraudie cultivates suspense by appropriating the mores and behavior patterns of a secluded gay society. The act of cruising/looking here, for instance, initially connotes lust but after the community learns of the murder, registers caution. While it universalizes sexual desire and thereby treats the homosexual experience as a banal subject, the movie is also an intriguing fictionalization of the routinely invoked Freudian conflict between Eros and death instinct. A sequence of the same structure repeats 10 times with a measured rhythm, but as the protagonist Franck lets himself fall further into murderous Michel's hands, the tension only escalates until the aforementioned distinction seems to completely blur. And what a fitting end to the story, wherein Franck at first tries to escape from Michel's grasp, but ends up looking for his lover, calling out his name desperately.

Also: The long take where Franck watches Michel drowning his lover with utter silence engulfing the entire landscape literally sent chills down my spine -- from which point on Franck becomes more drawn to Michel, setting off that whole battle between sexual and death drives. And how about that shot where, the day after Franck witnessed the murder, Michel emerges out of the lake and his beautiful but menacing face looms in close-up right in front of Franck.

Further musings: Given the changing political, social and legal landscape for LGBT rights, I started wondering how much that'll affect the future of LGBT-themed films. Because, as much as Stranger by the Lake uses a specifically gay culture as a foundation for its genre trappings, it's not at all about making a political statement, treats the gay experience as mundane and part of everyday, and deliberately blurs the genre distinctions. Anyway, all in all, a very good picture. Hopefully will check the rest of Guiraudie's oeuvre out soon.

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