Thursday, January 23, 2014

Sundance Review: Stranger by the Lake - 2 1/2 stars

Official synopsis:  Frank spends his summer searching for companionship at a lake in France.  He meets Michel, an attractive, mysterious man and falls blindly in love.  When a death occurs, Frank and Michel become the primary suspects.  Stranger by the Lake is an erotic thriller testing the limits of sexual desire.

The only location in this movie is the nude beach by the lake.  Most of the men who go here are gay, and they are there cruising.  Plenty of scenes are of men going off into the woods to have sex.  And the movie does not shy away from showing the nudity on the beach, or the sex in the woods.  While I give the filmmaker props for making these bold choices, it does at times become gratuitous.  No question this would get an NC-17 rating.

There are two interesting relationships in this movie.  One is between Frank and Michel, the other is between Frank and Henri.  Henri is overweight and a loner.  He also is maybe the only person who goes to the lake to relax rather than have sex.  The friendship between Frank and Henri is probably the best aspect of the movie. 

Overall, the story is just too thin.  The murder happens fairly early on, and Frank's actions don't make a whole lot of sense.  I think we are supposed to know that Michel killed someone, and Frank witnesses this.  But instead of turning him in, Frank quickly falls in love.  For this to work, I think the movie should have done a better job of showing the attraction between the two. 

But I really liked the look and sound design of the movie.  The location is gorgeous, and there is no musical score at all in this movie.  The only sounds are the natural sounds of the outdoors, and the way the wind builds to a crescendo at critical moments is really cool.  Also, the acting is very good, especially Patrick D'Assumcao as Henri, the most sympathetic character in the movie.

Overall, a lot of talent on display here.  Maybe a little better editing and shorter running time would have made the movie more enjoyable.

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