The sixth annual French Cinema Now, November 7-10 at Landmark’s Clay Theatre, is a chance for moviegoers to see the latest work by significant Francophone filmmakers.
Possibly the hottest ticket at the Festival will be Stranger by the Lake, written and directed by Alain Guiraudie. This sensational film depicts a love triangle that develops at a cruising area as Franck (Pierre Deadonchamps) befriends Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), but lusts after Michel (Christophe Paou). Ev
en though Franck spies Michel drowning his boyfriend, Ramière (François-Renaud Labarthe), he can’t resist coupling up with the murdering hunk. However, he is frustrated that their relationship is limited to their lakeside assignations. Curiously, both men lie to Inspector Damroder (Jérômre Chappatte), who is investigating Ramière’s death. This seductive erotic thriller—which is shot in a series of hypnotic, repetitive sequences—plays with issues of attraction and voyeurism, trust and truth as the characters strip down on the beach, swim naked in the lake and stroke and sometimes suck each other off on the woods. Director Alain Guiraudie’s film is incredibly atmospheric and uninhibited, and viewers will be breathing heavy during the erotic trysts and as the tension increases in the final reel as a series of violent murders occur.
In an interview after a recent screening of the film, Guiraudie cited a familiarity with the location (which is near his home in France), and discussed how he approached filming naked men on the beach.
“Looking directly at them, if they have their legs spread out, their sexual organs appear large. I thought I could move the camera off to the side, but in the end, we decided it was better to do it in this very frontal way. That’s how it is! I’ve gone to these kinds of nude beaches. You look directly at them, and that’s what you see. Nothing is hidden. Some things need to be hidden [for the story] but nothing about the body needs to be hidden.”
His full-frontal strategy is not just to titillate viewers, but also to focus the audience’s point of view. “It was predominantly about how to look, and how things look. How do I ‘show’ what you are looking at?” He continued to explain his point of view as: “How do we look at things? And how are the ways we look at things received by the object that we are looking at? You can have the same look and one point of view can be benevolent and loving, but the next day, you can be looking at the same image or view, and suddenly, it can seem very disturbing, threatening and oppressive.”
Stranger by the Lake plays well with these conflicting points of view— merging Franck’s vision of the murder with the narrative in one dazzling long sequence, but the entire film is mesmerizing.
Another film at the festival that should interest queer viewers is Vic + Flow Saw a Bear, a deliciously nasty Canadian film by Denis Côté. Vic (Pierrette Robitaille) makes it clear she does not suffer fools gladly when she bluntly dismisses a child playing a trumpet badly in the opening sequence. Moving to her incapacitated uncle’s sugar shack in the country, it is revealed that Vic has been released from prison. She reunites with her girlfri
end, Flo (Romane Bohringer), whom she met in jail, and the women are visited by Guillaume (Marc-Andre Grondin of the queer classic “C.R.A.Z.Y.”), a gay parole officer, as well as other folks, including Marina (Marie Brasard), a woman who gives Vic some friendly gardening tips.
Of course, there is something sinister afoot, and Vic + Flo Saw a Bear slowly reveals what that is. Côté artfully employs both static camerawork and some nice tracking shots to create tension as his peculiar film unfolds. There are also some darkly funny moments, as when Flo asks Guillaume to play a game by hiding in a trash bin, or when Vic asks the well-meaning Guillaume “how to be a part of society” when he urges them to go out and see people. Alas, Flo seems a bit too eager to connect with others as she beds a man she meets at a local bar, causing tensions in the lovers’ relationship. However, a far more troublesome matter arises when someone from one of the women’s past catches up to them.
Côté provides a rather fiendish finale, but he ends his provocative film with a curious but not inappropriate
Another title of interest is Bastards, the latest film by writer/director Claire Denis. This stylish film noir opens with pounding rain, and then bodies pounding the pavement. A man jumps out a window and his daughter, Justine (Lola Créton), who has been sexually abused, walks down the streets in a daze. Justine is the niece of Marco (Vincent Lindon), who seeks revenge and targets Edouard (Michael Subor) by initiating an affair with Raphaëlle (Chiara Mastroianni), Edouard’s lover. Needless to say, bad things happen because the male characters all live up to the title.
Denis’ film employs outstanding cinematography—this is the first film the director has shot digitally—but her narrative may confuse viewers. One “dream” sequence is just a red herring, and an episode of violence against Marco, while significant, goes largely, deliberately unexplained. Bastards may be obtuse at times, but it also has the opposite problem of underlining its horrors. When a prop illustrates the extent of Justine’s abuse, viewers may cringe imagining the scenario. However, Denis later shows video footage of the same prop being used to make its disturbing point.
Still, this intriguing film will certainly get under viewers’ skin.
© 2013 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” You can follow him on Twitter @garymkramer.