At a gay cruising spot on a bucolic lake in France, Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) strikes up an odd friendship with a portly, middle-aged and lonely man named Henri (Patrick d'Assumcao). But the target of his lust is Michel (Christophe Paou). Franck and Michel get together in the woods, and afterward Franck clearly sees Michel drowning his ex-lover, Pascal (Francois-Renaud Lebarthe). But does Franck chose to do anything about it, or say anything to Inspector Damroder (Jerome Chappatte)? No he doesn't -- and therein lies the problem. Stranger By the Lake is less a story of sexual or romantic obsession than it is a study of gay self-hatred, with everyone in the movie seeming to have a death wish, and a hero who can be best described as a wimpy loser. Although he makes some minor noises of sympathy over Pascal, Franck seems to embody the callous and negative attitude that Inspector Damroder wrongly ascribes to the entire gay community -- or at least the guys at the lake -- as if the Inspector is meant to be openly gay writer/director Guiraudie's surrogate. Ridiculously over-praised (but only in some quarters), Stranger By the Lake has been called "Hitchcockian," which is an insult to the Master, who would never have allowed such one-dimensional characters as well as such a minimal degree of suspense. The picture is so sexually explicit that it often borders on porn, making it seem as if the gay characters exist solely to have sex with strangers, and that Franck, who wants a relationship, is an aberration. It's very strange -- and a little sad -- that such a regressive movie would be made by a gay filmmaker in the 21st century -- and in France no less.
Verdict: Despite the somewhat pretty men and settings, this is pure schlock. *1/2.