Two French films about intense gay romances which, far from downplaying the physical basis of desire featured explicit sex scenes, won big at Cannes this year. Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d’Adele) came away with the Palme d’Or for its director and female leads, and Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac) won the Un Certain Regard section’s Best Director award for Alain Guiraudie. The Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival honored Guiraudie with a retrospective this year, as well as screening his recent award-winner. We caught up with the director in Brazil to find out why he felt now was the time to make Stranger by the Lake, the first gay-themed film in his oeuvre, and why he feels he and Kechiche are very far from birds of a feather.
“I wanted to speak about very complex things about human beings, Man with a big ‘M’, but in a very simple way through a familiar world I know very well, this little community by this lake,” Guiraudie said of making Stranger by the Lake. “It’s nearly reality for me. I wrote it and shot it almost like a documentary. The big objective of cinema for me is to show reality and make it bigger than life, so it enters another dimension — something fantastic or dreamlike. I’ve been interested in tragedy for a long time, Greek tragedy above all, which is why I set up this story entirely in one single location. I didn’t want to make something banal of their lives and go into their houses.”
The film is set in summer at the side of a shimmering lake and its surrounding woods, used as a cruising spot by gay men. One of these is Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps), a good-looking and amiable young guy who like the spot’s other regulars drive to the spot for casual sex. Guiraudie shows these encounters play out with unguarded frankness, offering an intriguing window onto a common (but little-embraced by fiction) global ritual that is never sensationalized for an armchair tourist’s titillation. Instead, we’re led into emotionally complex terrain along with Franck, as he starts falling for one of his hook-ups Michel (Christophe Paou). This is despite Michel’s evidently commitment-phobic refusal to meet him anywhere aside from the lake, and despite the much more alarming fact of Franck’s witnessing a violent act that gives him every reason to be afraid. “I wanted to make a film about anguish, and put my character between his desire and big moral questions — what he’s willing to do to realize his desire,” said Guiraudie. “So I needed a murderer.”
Guiraudie felt it was very important to represent the sex directly and explicitly, but explained that this does not have to equal voyeuristic spectacle of the sort he found in Blue is the Warmest Colour. “I have some problems with Kechiche’s movie. I was very impressed by it, but more impressed than moved. I think he’s a great director but for me I couldn’t help wondering what it means for a heterosexual man to shoot two women making love and to direct them. It’s like voyeurism for me, and on the side of show business and spectacle. A lot of porn films for men use these kind of scenes with two girls making love.”
“But for me it’s my sexuality,” Guaraudie continued. “I have to speak from the place I am; of the things I know. I wanted to speak about desire and love, and now we’re able to speak of universal love with a homosexual story. It was quite a political question for me to show that this is possible. We still want to show reality more and more deeply in the cinema. I haven’t seen so many movies that show sexuality realistically, even between men and women. We show a few seconds sometimes while they’re making love but it’s very fake. It’s time for us to mix the sexual organs and great emotional love scenes. We used to consider these organs as something very dirty, and classified this as pornographic cinema, while considering love, passion and kisses as being on the side of lyrical cinema and poetry. But the sexual organs can take part in poetry too.”
© FIPRESCI 2013