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'Stranger By The Lake's' Thrills Come Not From Sex Scenes, But Hitchcockian Twists

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Blue Is The Warmest Color made all of the headlines for reasons both good and bad during and after last year's Cannes Film Festival, but there was yet another French film at the festival with frank and graphic depictions of gay sexuality. The similarities between Stranger By The Lake, which netted Alain Guiraudie the best director award in the Un Certain Regard competition, and Blue begin and end there, though, as both depict this sex from seemingly opposite approaches—and not just because of the gender of the individuals involved.

In Blue, sex is the ultimate expression of the passionate love that eventually extinguishes between Adèle and Emma. For the gay men cruising a secluded lake in Stranger, sex is certainly not entirely divorced from emotion, but it comes often, anonymously and rather perfunctory. The eroticism of Stranger By The Lake is not in the multiple acts of unsimulated sex we watch on the screen, but within the headspace of the men that pursue this release.

Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) is our entry to this world that wishes to remain outside of the mainstream. Despite his obvious reasons for venturing to this secluded spot, the first relationship he manages to forge is a fairly touching, sexless companionship with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), a not particularly attractive, older man who slightly resembles current-day Gerard Depardieu on a bad day. But for the most carnal of his desires, he has his eye on a chiseled vintage-Tom Selleck lookalike who possesses an air that's almost as elusive as the oft-mentioned silurus (a type of giant catfish) that supposedly inhabits the scenic lake.

Although it may seem like a spoiler to reveal that Michel (Christophe Paou), the stud with whom Franck eventually does hook up with, has a sinister undercurrent that makes itself apparently after Frank witnesses him drown a former fling, the greatest mystery of the film is how Franck deals with this truth. How can he reconcile the insatiable lust he has for Michel lest he become silurus food? Stranger By The Lake becomes a chilling Hitchcockian thriller, twisting desire with death. Is desire, after all, not the most self-destructive act?

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Stranger By The Lake is now playing at Sundance Sunset Cinema and Laemmle's Monica Fourplex (Santa Monica) and Playhouse 7 (Pasadena). The film portrays many unsimulated sex acts, viewer discretion is advised.