Set amidst a hazy summer in the South of France, we meet Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who spends most of his time casually wondering around a gay cruising spot, tucked away on an idyllic lakeside. Though befriending the peculiar Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), Franck finds himself falling desperately in love with elusive stranger Michel (Christophe Paou), and although being fully aware of his menacing and dangerous nature, that doesn’t diminish his allure – instead making him even more entranced and seduced by this mysterious man.
Guiraudie has created a film so incredibly intense, with a final act that makes for an excruciating watch. Such a suspenseful atmosphere works wonderfully against the consistent, placid setting of this picturesque, if intimidating lake, with the sunlight glistening off the water in a pacifying and brooding manner. The setting remains the same throughout – we don’t deviate away from the shore of the lake, or the cruising spot nearby in the woods. There are some relatively consequential sequences that are alluded to, but as they take place away from this lake it’s like they don’t matter, as we are put in this particular time and place, bereft of context, as everything we need to see happens in this very spot.
Nonetheless there is a comedic element to this title, with a dry humour prevalent throughout. Much of the comedy derives from the more offbeat, opportunist men, who have an inclination to merely stand there watching on, playing with themselves. Though sleazy to an extent – and somewhat tragic – it’s funny to witness because of the reactions, the nonchalant way the other characters interact with them, as though it’s completely normal. The actors do have to be comfortable with nudity, in an explicit production that leaves little to the imagination. The losing of inhibitions extends from the sexual encounters to mere conversations, and the characters act very naturally, as though they aren’t being filmed, and such a notion is hugely beneficial, giving the film a naturalistic touch.
Where Strangers by the Lake is most impressive is in this candid, character study of Franck – who is a compassionate, naïve man who is endearing and easy to root for. This very fact is symbolised is how he always asserts himself romantically, and within these emotionally detached, sexual confrontations, he is the only character who seems to persist in asking to be kissed – believing in love in an otherwise loveless environment. It’s this very notion that makes this film such a captivating, and enticing watch.