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‘Stranger by the Lake’ wins Queer Palm at Cannes

by Xavier van Beesd in Films & Books , 17 augustus 2013

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During the Cannes film festival the independent Queer Palm was also presented. The Queer Palm celebrates a movie from one of the various categories in the festival. A film that addresses homosexual issues in an exceptional manner. The jury consists of film professionals, journalists, and film festival organizers. The award was presented to the makers of “Stranger by the Lake” during a festive.

This raw film, directed by Alain Guiraudie, was admitted in the category Un certain regard, and caused quite a stir in Cannes because of the way it deals with homosexuality.

“Stranger by the Lake” is a dark and at times intriguing reflection on love, sex, desire, and murder. A minimalist, gay erotic drama that takes place at one summery location. The plot revolves around the feelings of Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), who turns out to have a very romantic and sweet character, for Michel (Christophe Paou), a muscular guy who spends his days swimming in the lake. When Franck isn’t leering at Michel, he has conversations with a lonely husband, Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao), who is much more interested in simple camaraderie with other men than in sharing Franck’s burning desires.

This tranquil atmosphere quickly disappears when, one evening, Franck lingers on much longer than usual, and witnesses Michel drowning a young man. This scene - a long take at sunset, which is entirely filmed from Franck’s point of view - keeps the viewer on the edge of his seat, and is accompanied only by the sound of flowing water and rustling leaves. It is as if Guiraudie suggests that such an act can have its very own attraction. And sure enough, Franck decides to keep his mouth shut instead of informing the police. Soon afterwards, he enters into a relationship with Michel.

The focus of “Stranger by the Lake” now shifts from cold-blooded murder to sexual desires and the awakening love of two men, taking shape in some very explicit love scenes. Michel, however, grows increasingly suspicious that Franck is aware of his secret. No one else in the vicinity of the lake seems to have noticed that one of the regulars has gone missing. When a detective (Jerome Chappatte) starts snooping around, he notices this indifferent attitude, and at one point loudly proclaims: “You have a funny way of loving each other.”

Guiraudie stresses the provincial beauty of the nonchalant way the two men step into this relationship, but also reveals the extent to which they are severed from reality. It is clear that Franck is well aware of this, but he is so consumed by his passion for Michel, that he is willing to keep up appearances. That is to say, until the story accumulates to a thriller-like denouement and a final scene with wielded knives.

“Stranger by the Lake” is carefree and melancholic, passionate and unemotional at the same time, but, in the end, also gives an impressive analyses of the dangers of social isolation and a carefree existence.

This year, the head of the Queer Palm jury was Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues, who received world-wide recognition for his first long film “O Fantasma” (2000). This film was followed by “Odete” (2005), “Mourir comme un homme” (2009), and “La dernière fois que j’ai vu Macao” (2012; co-directed by João Rui Guerra da Mata). The poster for the Queer Palm also features a picture from Rodrigues’ first film.

Besides Mr. Rodrigues, the jury consisted of the American Daniel Dreifuss, producer, who was nominated in the category Best Foreign Film at the Oscars 2013 for “No”; Nicolas Gilson, independent journalist and member of the selection committee of the Namen French Language Film Festival in Belgium; Annie Maurette, press officer from France; and Michel Reilhac, French director.

The Queer Palm has been awarded since 2010, going to Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom” in that year. In 2011, the Palm went to “Beauty” by Oliver Hermanus, and in 2012 to “Laurence Anyways” by Xavier Dolan.




In the New Issue of Gay News, 328, December 2018

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