Stranger by the Lake director Alain Guiraudie. Photo: Irene Cho
A light-hearted story of gay cruising that morphs into a much darker tale is a surprise hit in Cannes this week. Alain Guiraudie's Stranger by the Lake, screening in the Un Certain Regard section here, is an eye-popping look at life along a lake on lazy summer afternoons as men, mostly nude, gather to ogle each other and hook up. Yet, as the film progresses, it takes a shocking turn when death threatens the isolated community of gay men.
Filmmaker Alain Guiraudie said that he sought to blend both tragedy and comedy in this new film. He hoped to blend the happiness and freedom of the men in his film with the fear found in an existential thriller. He also aimed to celebrate the joy these men are experiencing by capturing their sexual encounters in graphic detail.
"Something that I had in mind the whole time I was writing the film [was] how to mix these two genres—the comic and the tragic, the laughter and the so-called thriller," Guiraudie explained during a FilmLinc Daily Buzz interview this week here in Cannes. "As to how I did it, it’s very difficult for even me to explain."
Stranger by the Lake starts out as a seemingly light and idyllic summer story about men who gather for fun and sun on the shores of a beautiful lake. But their carefree encounters are cut short when a mysterious death occurs in their midst and threatens their isolated cruising spot.
"I wanted to show, on one hand, the depths of a romantic feeling and at the same time the triviality and even what some consider the obscenity of the sexual act itself," Guiraudie added. "But to show what is sometimes considered to be obscene acts or behavior in a beautiful manner.”
Guiraudie plays with genres in the film, exploring slasher elements alongside surprisingly graphic sex scenes, and his roll of the dice worked. Critics and audiences alike have embraced Stranger by the Lake, but the French director is realistic about the reason for the adulation.
"There are a lot of naked men in my film," Guiraudie quipped. "I think that’s a crowd pleaser.”