Thursday, March 13, 2014

"Stranger by the Lake": murder in a "gay paradise", and you can play Clue with this film

Stranger by the Lake” (“L’inconnu du lac"), by Alain Guiraudie, seems like a gay set piece, a sexually explicit film (some would say porn) that might have been a outdoor stage play, and yes, it has an intriguing story (not exactly a valid premise) that sort maps to an outdoor game of Clue.
The physical setting is a lake in Provence, France, and a pebbly beach where gay men cruise in the summer.  In short, it looks like a French Fire Island Pines (or at least the walk path between the Pines and the Grove).  The film never leaves this paradise.  It sort of reminds me of an old West Side Discussion Group in 1973, “are gay resorts really gay?” 
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) falls for a hunk Michel (Christophe Paou) about the time a body has been found in the water and Franck might have good reason to be suspicious of his idol.  Both men are attractive in opposite ways:  smooth v. hairy.  Franck wonders if he actually witnessed the drowning at great distance in a fleeting moment.  There are plenty of other men around, and rumors that some women actually show up.  One particular omniscient observer is Henri (Patrick d’Assumcao), who looks ungamely with his pot-belly, and says that he seeks mainly friendship.  If it has to remain platonic, that’s OK because this is the best he can do.
All of this does sound like the social environment in the Village (both Villages, that is) and Fire Island in the summers in the late 1970s in New York, pre-AIDS.  Therapy was a big thing, in those days when gay men lived separate but parallel lives with the “real world” and some sort of truce had developed after Stonewall.  I would hear people say things like, “I was just a friend”, or “I like you as a person”, or “all I want is just friendship”.  That point, now long forgotten, comes out well in the script.  Early on, Henri makes an interesting and prescient comment that Michel had asked him (Henri) not to stare at him.  

I think I recall cell phones in the script, but by and large the world seemed unplugged, as it might have been a few decades ago.

There are lines in the script about how these men "spend their lives".  They don't seem to have any idea of a future, at least in terms of it being carried on by others (children).  This almost seems like a kind of purgatory in lieu of a "paradise ghetto".  
Pretty soon a thin inspector (Jerome Chappatte) starts asking questions.  All three of the main characters fall under some suspicion.  One observation follows the adage “Fish are like people, when one of them dies, nobody notices” (Reid Ewing’s “Free Fish” satire short, where “free” is a pun).  To wit, one theory is that some carnivorous free fish in the Lake caused the death (like in the horror film “Lake Placid”), but the men are still going about their cruising and sex as if nothing had happened (“nobody notices”).  Why aren’t they worried that some homophobic serial killer is on the loose in this paradise?
 The film pushes the envelope on explicit gay male sex, and nudity (which usually is not allowed in most US gay beaches).  For example, it’s apparent to the eye that no one is circumcised.

The film is not rated, but theaters treat it as NC-17.  No question, this movie is strictly for adults.   I saw if before a fair late afternoon audience, mostly male, at Landmark E Street in Washington DC today.  The theatrical release in the US comes from Strand Releasing, generally well known for GLBT films, but recently venturing heavily into the European foreign language art film market (the {“Paradise” films) and also films about foreign conflicts.  

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