Sunday, January 26, 2014

Review: Stranger By the Lake

Image courtesy of Strand Releasing.
Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger By the Lake" falls into the realm of Hitchcock territory and is frequently mysterious and involving - but, ultimately, also a bit repetitive and opaque.

In the film Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) cruises the lovely French lakeside locale where the entire film is set, searching for flings and, quite possibly, love.

He first strikes up a friendship with a lonely, but straight, man named named Henry (Patrick d'Assumcao), who spends his days at the lake not to hook up, but to spend some time alone in a serene environment. He has recently broken off a long-term relationship.

But Franck's true reason for returning every day to swim in the lake is that he has his eye on Michel (Christophe Paou), a slightly older guy and strong swimmer - I mention this only because the film takes great pains to point this out - who is first seen with another man roaming the beach.

After having stayed a little later than usual one evening, Franck takes a walk in the woods and spots Michel and his current lover swimming in the lake alone. He is a bit shocked to witness what appears to be a murder as Michel seemingly drowns the other man.

Nevertheless, Franck is drawn to Michel and, against all good judgment, gets involved - well, sort of. Soon afterward, a police investigator starts snooping around and, in typical Hitchockian wrong-man fashion, Franck finds himself in an increasingly tense situation.

"Stranger By the Lake" received mostly glowing reviews following its debut last year at the Cannes Film Festival. It's easy to see why many were drawn to it. It's a slow-moving, but methodical, thriller that emphasizes mood and location over plot twists and characterization. It's also often lovely to look at with its shots of trees swaying in the breeze and sun shining on the scenic lake where all of the action is set.

The film also, unfortunately, becomes a bit repetitive - Franck shows up at the beach, everyone turns to stare at him, he has a conversation with Henri, hooks up with Michel, runs into the detective and is questioned. Then, rinse and repeat. Also, I'm all for open-ended narratives, but the finale in "Stranger By the Lake" left me feeling a little cheated. All in all, it's a pretty bold movie and has its moments of interest, but it didn't quite bowl me over.

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