Beneath the quietly sparkling waters of this lake is something dark and terrible. The lake is the focal point for a cruising spot for gay men. A rumour circulates that a 30-foot predatory fish lurks in the water. This alleged silurus may not exist, but when Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) watches Michel (Christophe Paou) murder his boyfriend, the fabled fish is joined by a very real body. The lake – and Michel – should be polluted to Franck, but instead he finds himself drawn to this man, crystalline beauty and forbidding depths alike.
Stranger by the Lake is otherworldly. We never leave the lake, and it begins to feel increasingly unreal, separated from the banality of reality. Franck’s irrepressible attraction to Michel is powerfully personal and abstractly allegorical. Perhaps it is a metaphor for HIV, or maybe it is more generally redolent of the conflicted desires that drive human sexuality, jumbled with denial and pain and confusion. The film resists easy reduction to a “message,” however; whatever it means, its potency stems from Alain Guiraidie’s masterful sense of tone and rhythm. The narrative is threadbare; cyclical. But it connects to a primordial sense of seductive dread, culminating in a transcendent, perfect final shot.