Stranger by the Lake, opening February 7, depicts a love triangle that develops at a gay cruising area. Written and directed by Alain Guiraudie, the film tells the story of Franck (Pierre Deadonchamps) who befriends area newcomer Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao). However, he lusts after Michel (Christophe Paou).
Even though Franck spies Michel drowning his boyfriend, Ramière (François-Renaud Labarthe), he can’t resist coupling up with the murdering hunk.
However, once their affair begins, Franck is frustrated that his relationship with Michel 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, as well as trust and truth as the characters strip down on the beach, swim naked in the lake, and stroke and sometimes suck each other off in the woods.
Director Alain Guiraudie’s film is incredibly atmospheric and uninhibited. 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.
Guiraudie spoke (with the assistance of a translator) to me about creating his seductive, erotic thriller.
Gary M. Kramer: Your entire film is shot on a nude beach, in the water, and in the woods. The all-male cast appears more frequently than not sans clothes. Can you discuss what you spent on costumes and locations?
Alain Guiraudie: [Laughs, answers in English]. The beach was free. The costumes were 1,500 Euros. Expensive!
GMK: Your film is very much about voyeurism and the male gaze. The men on the beach look at us, the viewer(s). There is a scene in which Franck spies a murder. There are also the men in the woods looking at other guys having sex. Can you talk about this visual theme?
AG: The theme of voyeurism wasn’t really something that was predominant for me. I think what I was more interested in was about “how to look, and how things look.” One of the questions I was interested in answering was, “How do you show naked men on the beach? How do you film them when you are opposite them?” So it was really more a question of how to show things, and how people saw things (other) than voyeurism itself. Going back to the example of shooting naked men on the beach, when you are looking directly at them, if they have their legs spread out, their sexual organs are going to appear large in the image. So I thought I could move the camera slightly off to the side, but in the end, we decided it was better to do it in this very frontal way.
GMK: Why was that?
AG: Because that’s how it is! I did it that way, because I’ve gone to these kinds of nude beaches. That’s the way it is—you look directly at them, and that’s what you see. This is really a film where nothing is hidden. There were some things needing to be hidden, but nothing about the body needs to be hidden. The other thing I was interested in doing—and I don’t know if it is linked to voyeurism—was addressing the whole question of point of view and how do we look at things? How are the ways we look at things received by the object that we are looking at? What I also thought was interesting was to play with the idea that you can oftentimes have the same look. One day that look is from one point of view and it can seem very benevolent, very inviting, and very loving. But the next day, you can be looking at the same image or view, and suddenly, it can seem very disturbing, very threatening, and even very oppressive.
GMK: You deliberately show Michel drowning his boyfriend in the water through the trees. Why did you make this murder unambiguous?
AG: I wanted the viewer to know exactly the same information that Franck knew. I wanted the audience to be with him, and I didn’t want viewers to get involved on a psychological level with Franck trying to determine should he tell the police, or should he not tell the police? I didn’t want it to be a psychological film in that respect, so it was really obvious for me to let the audience know. The main thrust of the plot is here is Franck being caught between his desires and the ethical and moral questions—should I turn this guy into the police because he just killed someone?
GMK: Can you talk about the love triangle between Henri, Franck, and Michel?
AG: I think what is very interesting is that it posits two very different approaches to what is love and what is desire. On the one hand, you have the relationship between Franck and Michel, and it’s something very sexual, and the desire is all consuming and that is the primary aspect of that relationship. But then you have the relationship between Franck and Henri. Again, it’s a relationship that’s more disturbing. It’s less clear what it is about. It’s certainly friendship, but you can also say that it’s a love relationship between Franck and Henri, too. The way I deal with desire in the film is this idea of the “spiral quality of desire”—this circular movement that goes between Franck and Michel and Franck and Henri. The way they all interact with each other—the circular motion—really became evident during the editing process.
GMK: How did you work with your actors?
AG: I think a large part of the work was actually done during the casting process. What was important there was to find two actors that would work together well as a couple. When they actually did come together, a lot of that work had been done in advance by casting them. We would then take the script and discuss the scenes. With the sex scenes, there was much more intense discussion.
GMK: What can you say about filming the explicit sex scenes?
AG: We had a lot of discussions, and did a lot of rehearsing. It was really exploring where I could take them, and how far the actors were willing to go. I wanted the actors to invest something of themselves in the characters they were portraying. I didn’t want to stuff them into a pre-designed mold of who or what these characters were going to be. Through the rehearsal process, and in talking to them about the sex scenes in particular, we worked on the positions, and the “choreography,” as it were. Because we did so much preliminary work, when the time actually came to shoot it, it went very, very easily.
© 2014 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.