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Film Studies 101
Feature
What To Say About Stranger By The Lake
Director and stars talk through their controversial five-star thriller

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A thoughtful, elegant French thriller that just happens to be giving society's sermonisers a conniption, Stranger By The Lake transplants Hitchcockian tensions to a seemingly genteel cruising spot in high summer. The sun beats down, the water ripples and the wind breathes lazily through the trees, but darker deeds are afoot amongst the easy-living (and loving) gay men who frequent the spot. It's a film on everyone's lips and Empire went along to persuade its maker, Alain Guiraudie, and his two stars to share everything you need to know about it.

WORDS LIZ BEARDSWORTH
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IT CONTAINS REAL SEX...

Strangers By The Lake

Alain Guiraudie’s erotic, dreamlike thriller, set at a popular gay cruising spot, is, make no mistake, full of sex. Vigorous, intense, very visible encounters which could unnerve some, and possibly played a part in one UK chain’s 11th-hour decision to cancel screenings this weekend (the official reason was a scheduling snafu) — although after a modest but determined Twitter campaign the film, which nabbed Guiraudie the Un Certain Regard award for directing at Cannes, has happily now been reinstated.

Lead actors Pierre Deladonchamps (Franck) and Christophe Paou (Michel) are open about how wary they were about the more explicit sequences, and were clear from the start that they didn’t want to perform them themselves. Rather than go with the “fake vaginas” route employed in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Guiraudie decided to go with body doubles after experiments with prosthetics proved, well, deeply unsexy. “At first we talked about a fake phallus,” remembers Paou. “And we tried for one scene. We had false ejaculation with a false phallus between us, but it didn’t work! It was like a metal screw with a dildo between us.” “It wouldn’t move like a real one,” rues Deladonchamps. “It was like a [gear] stick in a car more than a dick.” So instead, “We had a choreography in mind,” explains Deladonchamps. “Alain would tell us, ‘First time you kiss, then you’ll pretend to blow-job him, then you’ll pretend to fuck him.’” “Then Alain would say, ‘Okay, body double, please!’” smiles Paou.

Despite the more explicit moments, Deladonchamps, Paou and Guiraudie have been pleasantly surprised at how little rumpus there has been so far. “I expected more rejection from the critics,” admits Guiraudie. “But there wasn’t a huge controversy in France. Even in Brazil, the United States, Italy – the country of the Vatican! Only one, gay, critic felt that it gave a negative image of sexuality.” Deladonchamps acknowledges that the material could be challenging for some parts of the audience — “If you are a straight guy and you go to see a movie with gay sex, it can be disturbing because you are afraid that people will think that you are attracted to these kinds of stories.” Still, as Paou points out, “It was a success in France, even with straight people. The aunt of a friend of mine, she went with two friends, and they are 75 years old and they really enjoyed it. There is something very universal in this movie.”
 

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