Thursday, October 24, 2013

Philadelphia Film Festival- STRANGER BY THE LAKE

Wednesday was my closing night at the 22nd Philadelphia Film Festival, two days before the actual closing. I had only seen four movies, "The Congress," "August: Osage County," "Blue is the Warmest Color" and now "Stranger By the Lake." With that film I could not have asked for a better end to my first film festival.

Premiering at Cannes, alongside Palme d'Or winner and PFF entry"Blue is the Warmest Color," "Stranger By the Lake" is what I call the gay counterpart to "Blue." They both feature uncompromising showings of same-sex relations but with characters we care about, even if they're two completely different stories.

During the summer a lake spot in France becomes a cruising destination for gay men. On the rocky shores are men of all ages hanging around naked in the open, including Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) a guy who we know nothing about except that he's looking for a lover. He has his flings in the woods with some of the naturalists, but nothing of substance.

He finds friendship in an older straight man named Henri who doesn't go there to cruise but because it's quiet. It's not before long that Franck meets Michel (Christophe Pauo), a strong, beautifully built and tan man with a piercing stare and gorgeous pecks. So sure that he's fallen in love, Franck sidesteps the fact that Michel killed his former fuck buddy, and still yearns for passion. Will he be Michel's next victim?

This is a thrilling movie. No music, unbroken long shots, the distant sounds of cars starting up in the dark or the rustling of trees in the woods, shots of empty shores. If it weren't for the fact that this is a "gay" movie, this would be up there with any simply-structured thriller that featured no music (see Michael Haneke). It's so basically put together with no cheap thrills that it makes watching it that much more thrilling. We sit, we watch, we listen, we observe. Writer/director Alain Guiraudie has put together a film that shows thrills are made from things all around us, you don't need anything fancy to put you at unease.

What surprised me was how quickly the film moved along. It was only 100 minutes but in that time we observed character development, a balance of good and evil, and thriller some sexual humor. This was a perfectly paced movie that built up to an ending that will leave you in the dark, literally.

So much of this film sits on Deladonchamps' shoulders for his sweet and inviting performance as Franck, who is such a sweetheart, truly. He's a good guy who wants love, even though he's not finding it in the right ways. His naivete clouds his vision but he wants to spend his time with someone. There's nothing wrong with it, and I'm sure many young gay men have felt that way. He's not a character you you're rooting for to live, but to survive a questionable relationship.

It's unfair to compare "Stranger" to "Blue," but this one is the better LGBT-themed film of the year.

Rating: A

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