So, I got to about the halfway point of this film, and I was just about ready to write it off as another horrible installment in what has been a really aggravating month in reviewing films on this blog. It’s slow, the camera has a tendency to stay put on scenery and quiet moments for way too long, and nothing of much importance really seems to happen. Even something that should be a big deal is quietly ignored for what seems like an eternity in movie time. I just wasn’t finding anything to like about this film, except perhaps for the gratuitous male-only sex scenes, but even then, if I wanted porn, there’s way better stuff on the internet.
But then, something happened. And then something else happened. And suddenly, there was a story in this film, and an engaging one at that. All the painfully slow plotting of the first forty-five minutes actually led up to something, and I was hooked. See, this film takes place on a nude beach where gay men go to pick up other gay men for anonymous sex in the woods. The film follows Frank as he begins to establish two relationships: a friendship with a straight man named Henri who hangs around the beach by himself, and a sexual relationship with a man named Michel who isn’t interested in establishing an emotional connection. All is fine on the beach until Frank witnesses a murder late one night as one man drowns another in the lake. What follows is a fantastically riveting tale about succumbing to the wiles of a cunning emotional predator.
It may seem like that last sentence spoils the film a tad, but it really doesn’t. The film makes no secret of who the murderer is, and it even heavily implies that Frank realizes who is responsible. What really matters in this film is how Frank chooses to deal with the situation, and those choices have consequences that lead into one of the most chilling final scenes of recent memory.
As I said before, though, where this film really falls flat is its pacing. For the first two acts I was so incredibly bored, and when the murder finally happened, it made me wonder if I hadn’t just imagined that scene in a fit of stupefied trance. The film doesn’t even really bother to introduce its main characters by name until way late in the game, which may be a nod to how the anonymity of this beach functions, but not much else is lent to the characters in the way of being otherwise memorable or compelling. That said, though, for all those incredibly glaring faults, I found them forgivable in light of how the third act ties everything together for a tense and unsettling climax.
It should be known that this is a French film, and it is about as “French” as you can imagine. It is not shy about showing off the male body, nor is it shy about taking its time to tell its story in a quiet and subdued fashion. That in and of itself should not disqualify a film from being entertaining, and I think the final act of Stranger By The Lake demonstrates that quite nicely. However, the first half of the film is a bit too ”French,” even for me. It comes off as pompous and meandering around the point while using the setting as an excuse to film some softcore porn. But is it worth the wait for the fantastic conclusion? Yeah, I think so. There’s some interesting social commentary to be mined about the sexual dynamics of the gay community, and it does so in an interesting, if an achingly drawn-out fashion. So if you can get your hands on this one, give it a shot.
Do any French films catch your fancy? Share your favorites in the comments below.