Opening 19 Sep 2013
The Côte d’Azur is a special playground for all types and ages, so why not a designated beach where homosexuals come to cruise. Franck is young and good-looking. He immediately falls for Michel, to no avail. Sometimes Franck sits with Henri who is older and happy to sit alone, look into the sea, think philosophical thoughts about his failed marriage, and keep his clothes on. Soon Franck’s luck changes in a sinister way. In the slow darkness of twilight, he sees two men in the water. There is obviously a confrontation, and only one man returns to shore. It is Michel, who has just drowned his friend Pascal. Franck delights that Michel is now free for him, and refuses to face the reality that he is now in partnership with a homophobic serial killer. He wishes to become a real friend, and not just a 10-minute quick shot in the woods, but Michel will only see him at the beach for sex and reveals nothing of his private life. Henri, on the other hand, is happy to be an after-beach friend with Michel, going out to eat, to converse. (We know this from their conversations, since the camera never leaves the beach for the duration of the film, except for occasional shots of the parking lot.) The corpse is discovered and soon Inspector Damrother visits the beach to interrogate possible witnesses, with no results, but he is determined and returns often.
This French film’s original title is L’inconnu du lac, or literally: the stranger at the sea. It showed in the 2013 Cannes film festival; director Alain Guiraudie won best director in the Un-Certain-Regard and the film won first prize in the gay-film categories. It revolves basically around four protagonists, although the rocky beach is always inhabited by various naked men lying on small thin beach towels which must be very uncomfortable after a while. They pair up and disappear into the brush for quick sex, and then lie down again in the sunshine. No real friendships develop; names and telephone numbers are insignificant. The suspense rises slowly, as if by chance, and the ending is unpredictable. The sea plays a role, changing in color and substance around the clock.
Guiraudie said he found it important to use only natural lighting and was especially interested in filming during sunset, which meant just 15 minutes for one or two takes. Background sound is that of birds, insects, water, wind and other natural sources – no music at all, which is a wonderful relief from the plunk-plink of many films I’ve seen recently. I very much recommend this film, although you must be able to watch 97 minutes of naked men in various sexual positions without being distracted from the plot. (Becky Tan)