Category Archive for: ‘Michael Ferguson’
Stranger by the Lake
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Pialat, Silvie (Producer), Guiraudie, Alain (Director). (2013) Stranger by the Lake. France: Les Films du Worso.
Stranger by the Lake is a French film about male-male cruising set at a lakeside beach somewhere in France. Released in 2013, the film is in French with subtitles. This is a guys’ movie if there ever was one. There is lots of nudity, lots of penises, erections, and explicit male-male sex. It will naturally be of interest to gay men, but I recommend it to girls and women also because it offers a window into the essential character of male sexuality which is often stifled or suppressed in relations with women in contemporary society. It is a side of male sexual behavior that few American women see unless they are professional sex workers. Here male sexual desire can be seen in its casualness, its relaxed, easy tolerance, and its darker, harder edge. It was interesting. It had subtlety. The actors were good and the characters were well drawn. It is a superbly made film.
What this movie is about, although it does not become clear until the very end, is suicidal feelings within the cruising community of gay men. In fact, I would say that it suggests that beneath the restless search for sex and connection in this cruising culture is an insidious, if not pervasive, longing for death. Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) witnesses Michel (Christophe Paou) kill his partner in the water. He is not horrified by it. In fact, he becomes compellingly attracted to Michel as a result. There was attraction before, but witnessing the murder intensified it. I think part of the appeal of the killer is an enhanced perception of masculinity. A man who can kill and who does kill is perceived as more manly and thus more desirable. The danger and destructive potential that he represents enhances desirability and excitement. It is strictly a male value, although women are often excited by it as well.
It is never clear why Michel killed the other guy. That relationship is not explored in any great depth, so we don’t understand his motivation. But Michel is not psychotic. He is not John Wayne Gacy. By the end of the movie I could say that he killed his partner because he understood that that is what the guy wanted him to do. There was a mutual understanding between them. A death pact. Some people kill themselves by provoking others to kill them. They choose partners whom they know have the capability, and then they proceed to draw out a culmination from them. What confirms this is the behavior of Franck and others in this community. Franck is attracted to Michel knowing that he is a killer. The lure is Franck’s compulsion to be next. He goes into the water with him. There is an encounter that confirms his suspicions. It will only be a matter of time until Michel gets him. And they both know it. It is a kind of macabre seduction chase.
Among the guys that frequent the beach there is an apparent code of silence. They were not upset by the killing. The police inspector who investigated the case was taken aback by the aplomb with which the murder was greeted by the group and how quickly they went back to business as usual, oblivious to any possible danger among them. They didn’t care about the person who was killed, and they had no fear for themselves. A more decisive confirmation is the older, paunchy Henri, (Patrick d’Assumҫao) who gets knifed in the woods by Michel. Henri understands that Michel is the guilty one. He walks over to Michel and confronts him, more or less threatens him, and then stalks off into the woods by himself. This amounts to an invitation and an opportunity, which Michel grasps and takes him up on. When Franck finds Henri dying he tells Franck, “I got what I wanted.” Michel correctly understands what these men want and lacks the moral restraint that would inhibit him from fulfilling this longing.
The police inspector (Jérôme Chappate) is killed because he represents a foreign element in this group. He is not seen a good guy who is on their side. They don’t see him as doing them a favor in tracking down the killer. He has difficulty getting anyone to cooperate with him. He is an intruder who represents a value system and an outlook that is foreign and inimical to this group. The inspector is hostile to death and to murder as the outcome of a personal, sexual interaction. These are not the values of this culture. So he must die also.
At the very end Franck flees from Michel. Notice that it is still daylight when he runs away. But they are both still there when it is pitch dark and both are still looking for the other. He calls out to him, “Michel, Michel,” but Michel doesn’t answer. Michel has committed suicide.
This is a group where a desire for death is lurking just beneath the surface of the desire for sex. There is an indifference to life, death, and murder that pervades this group. Murder is accepted as an outcome of personal interaction. It is not seen as a communal threat. The desire for death can be fulfilled through a personal relationship, just as any other desire can. To what extent this reflects “reality” in any group of gay cruisers I cannot say. I can only say that this is what the film presents and it seems to take itself seriously.