STRANGER BY THE LAKE
Pierre Deladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick D’Assumcao
At a secluded gay naturist beach and cruising ground, tucked away on the shores of a picturesque French lake, handsome sex addict Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) rolls up daily over a long hot summer to catch up with fellow sunworshippers, converse with lonely carpenter Henri (Patrick D’Assumcao) and, of course, seek sex in the bushes. Gorgeous though it is, it’s the last spot you’d expect Franck to look for love, but when he finds himself falling for moustachioed, 70s-porn-star-alike Michel (Christophe Paou), he lets his desire suppress all rationality. Even witnessing Michel drowning one of the other regulars doesn’t nullify Franck’s burgeoning infatuation.
Set in a single location, and unfolding cyclically with the lakeside setting framed like a theatre stage at the start of each new cruising day, Alain Guiraudie’s seductive thriller of sexual hedonism and cold-blooded murder arrives with its graphic, unsimulated sex scenes already a talking point. Deladonchamps, Paou and the supporting players spend most of their screen time on full-frontal display, and Guiraudie puts on an unashamed exhibition of gay sexuality that includes on-screen fellatio, hand-jobs and orgasms (courtesy of body doubles). But swinging dicks and cum shots aren’t all that’s on show in Stranger By The Lake. Guiraudie’s film comes very well endowed with intellect, too, with no less respectable a journal than French cineaste bible Cahiers Du Cinema naming it their No. 1 film of 2013.
For Guiraudie, explicit sex serves as the jumping-off point for an unsettling examination of the compulsive, risktaking abandonment that often drives sexual desire. While Franck’s platonic relationship with Henri – older, obese, clothed – can be the most nourishing part of his day, his rampant libido leads him willingly into the arms of a dangerous man and, possibly, to his own oblivion. Deladonochamps charts Franck’s journey with mesmerising conviction; Paou is charismatically hunky as Michel; and from shimmering lake to bucolic woodlands, the visuals are idyllic and sensuously appealing. There’s a pleasing streak of dark humour, too, while in the second half, Guiraudie cranks up the Hitchcockian thriller elements to genuinely suspenseful effect.
The result is a brilliantly masterful and honest piece of filmmaking that uses sex and queer-culture ethnography to explore loneliness and self-delusion. Erotic, provactive and emotionally potent, Stranger By The Lake may be the manifest opposite of Weekend but it’s this year’s absolute must-see gay film.
Nick Frost, Chris O’Dowd, Rashida Jones
Watching Nick Frost hoofing it as a failed salsa prodigy who slips back into satin shirts and Latin dance shoes to win over his new boss (Rashida Jones) has its modest pleasures. But what snags our vote – apart from Olivia Colman sporting leopard prints – is Kayvan Novak as Bejan, the very camp salsa apprentice who befriends Frost. Bejan strays into stereotype, and his sexuality remains fuzzy for that reason, but Novak’s affectionate, charming turn makes him Fury’s funniest asset.
Kate Winslet, Josh Brolin, Gattlin Griffith
From the filmmaker who brought us Juno, comes this home-invasion oddity, a misfire that rides roughshod over the committed performances of Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin to become a ghastly romantic-fantasy for Daily Mail-reading housewives. Agoraphobic single mother Adele's feelings transform from terror to love after Brolin’s convict takes her and her teenage son hostage because – hot damn – he sure makes a yummy peach pie.