Few mainstream movies attempt to present hard-core gay sex (John Cameron Mitchell's 2006 film Shortbus comes to mind). We're not talking about gay porn here. We mean a theatrical release with a plot, characters and a script that depicts gay men having actual intercourse. Now, Stranger By the Lake is a French art film (complete with subtitles), which might explain why it casually shows its male leads sucking and fucking. There's even a cum shot. But this Cannes Film Festival favorite (it won the Queer Palm Award and Best Director) from Strand Releasing is also an edge-of-your-seat psychosexual thriller that will send you to the exits wondering, What the fuck just happened?!
Set at a scenic lake in the south of France, the film centers on a cruising area frequented by gay men. Every day, our hero Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) arrives at the lake, takes off his clothes and proceeds to swim, sunbathe and befriend his naked neighbors. After staying at the lake past sundown one day, he unwittingly witnesses a murder but decides to stay mum, mostly because the suspect (Christophe Paou) is a hot and hairy stud who resembles Burt Reynolds in his heyday. Enter a quirky police inspector (Jérôme Chappatte) to investigate the crime (think Columbo with a French accent); he questions the locals in an attempt to bring the killer out of the weeds. We won't give away any more of the story, but what starts as a languid, ethereal day with some cute boys in the sand ends up as a suspenseful Hitchcockian whodunit.
And don't forget the nudity and sex! The actors are handsome and appealing, and they may have used body doubles for the cocksucking (two are listed in the credits), but the erotic tension they create makes for an entertaining and exciting ride. Writer-director Alain Guiraudie does an excellent job exploring the timeless themes of sex and death. He also raises pertinent questions about the sometimes fatal lure of physical beauty, and about our twisted sense of gay community in the face of a symbolic killer, such as AIDS.
Look for Stranger By the Lake at your local art house, and also on DVD. For more information, visit StrandReleasing.com.