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Interview: Alain Guiraudie On His Alluring and Explicit Film "Stranger by the Lake"

Interviews
by Carlos Aguilar
February 20, 2014 11:00 AM
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Alain Guiraudie's 'Stranger by the Lake'

A sunbathed murderous man who can ignite a morally corrosive desire in those around him, at a lakeside homosexual cruising spot, is at the center of Alain Guiraudie’s latest erotic mystery Stranger by the Lake. Unafraid to present the promiscuous sexuality of its characters with unapologetically explicit imagery, the film is the perfect exposition of passion overruling rationality. This man, whose charm is inexplicably magnetic for a younger visitor to the clandestine meeting place, commits a murder of which his prospective lover is the only witness. Guiraudie’s astonishing atmospheric delivery combined with the evocative and unsettling idea of being in love with a dangerous individual make for a truly suspenseful film. The fact that everything occurs under the bright sunlight of a beautiful French summer adds a layer of captivating duality that plays with the thin line between fear and infatuation, pain and pleasure, or seduction and manipulation. I talked to Mr.Guiraudie during his visit to this year’s Sundance Film Festival where the film screen in the Spotlight section as one of the most acclaimed works from last year’s festival circuit.

Aguilar: Your film deals with a dangerous man, and how Frank, the man that falls for him, wants him irrationally. Is it the mysterious quality or the danger he emanates that lure Frank in?

Alain Guiraudie at the film's Cannes Premier

Guiraudie: No. It is not danger that attracts Frank. He remains attracted to Michel, although he is a murderer. It is not because Michel is a murderer that Frank is attracted to him, but he is attracted to him first and falls in love even though he becomes a murderer, and he is willing to go with it. The idea is until what point or how far am I able to go to live out my desire. The film is a romantic movie in a sense. George Bataille said, “Eroticism is the approval of life unto death.” There are a lot of things that have to do with this eroticism: death and desire or pleasure and death.

Aguilar: As a filmmaker you are bold and unafraid to use sexually explicit images, which is something not often seen in American films, why do you think that difference exists?

Guiraudie: In American movies people always sleep at night with undershirts and underpants [Laughs], this is sort of the American Puritanism, I don’t known American people that well perhaps However, the sexual liberation, that in which people first decided to go to the beach naked, to live together naked, took place in America with the hippies. It wasn’t in Europe, or maybe it was at the same time, but it wasn’t before. I’m not sure what it is but there is a fundamental difference between Americans and Europeans. We a have a long Romantic tradition that makes people go as far as they can in a love affair, which I think is very French

Aguilar: Are there any American films you think bypass those puritan limits?

Guiraudie: In American independent cinema there are films like John Cameron Mitchell’s “Shortbus” that include real sexual encounters. The difference between “Stranger by the Lake” and “Shortbus” in terms of these sex scenes is that in their case non-actors performed them, and this is an American movie! Even in a puritan country like America it is possible to make this kind of films”

Christophe Paou and Pierre Deladonchamps in 'Stranger by the Lake'

Aguilar: Given that “Stranger by the Lake” deals with the cruising scene of this town where men meet to engage in anonymous sexual encounters. In your opinion what other films showcase subjects relevant to the LGBT community?

Guiraudie: I’m not sure that all of these groups [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender] make a community. I don’t really believe in that as a community. I believe that in the “villages” - like Greenwich Village in New York or the Castro in San Francisco - there is a gay culture. But I don’t think that having the same or similar sexual preference is enough to build a community. I think that in my film I ask a lot of questions about this community, the inspector is very important for that reason. He says and questions some things with which I agree. He asks about the solidarity of this little group on the beach, which is a cruising area, but it doesn’t represent the gay community. I speak about gay people, but I want to speak about humans in general. For me the subject of the film is not homosexuality, it is desire, love, passion, but it is also an existential movie.

Aguilar: Would the film be different if it revolved around a heterosexual couple instead?

Guiraudie: Yes, it would have been so different. I think it wouldn’t work in a heterosexual world. It doesn’t work if you put a girl in the trio between Michel, Henry, and Frank. If you put a woman instead of one of them, the film doesn’t work, or maybe it does work but it would be another thing. It was important for me to stay in a men’s story because of this way of life, the sexual affairs between two men are totally different from those even in a libertine heterosexual community where sex happens between a woman and a man. It is also important for me, now in 2014, to speak about men, about passion, about great feelings and ideas using gay people. The problems that only concern gay people don’t interest me.

Aguilar: Working with your cast in such intimate and erotic sequences, how did you prepare them or made them feel safe to elicit the performances you wanted?

Pierre Deladonchamps in 'Stranger by the Lake'

Guiraudie: That’s a question of trust and confidence in the relationship between the actors and the director. They have to be confident. They have to trust the director. We take a lot of time to discuss, we have to know how far they are able to go, or how far they want to go, and to point do I want to take them, and where I must stop. [Laughs] When I was writing the script I thought I would like to find actors who would be able to perform the text and the sex [Laughs], and also the swimming, but it was impossible. I had to make it with body-doubles, and through editing we mixed graphic shots with the love scenes. It is very hard to explain the relationship of how a director works with the actors. We just try some things, or some positions [Laughs], we try some choreography, and they put their emotions on that.

Aguilar: One of the elements that make this film so interesting is the fact that it all takes place under the bright sun. The mystery is always out in the open.

Guiraudie: It’s a sunny film. At the beginning it is a paradisiacal movie, but things slowly change into a nightmare. It was important to keep the night for the end of the movie, and to stay in the sun for most of the time.

Aguilar: How has the American audience’s reaction to your film in comparison to that of Cannes and other festivals?

Guiraudie: Cannes had the most enthusiastic audience for my movie, London and Vienna as well, those three. At Sundance there wasn’t such a warm welcome [Laughs], what can I say? In Cannes it was 1000 people, because it was the World Premier, in London 800 people, in Vienna 700 people, here it was 200 people, and the number of people makes a difference. It is very odd to compare. The only thing I can tell you is that in Cannes the audience was more enthusiastic.

Aguilar: Have you had the chance to see 'Blue is the Warmest Color'? Do you see any comparisons between that film and yours given that, though yours is a mystery, they both deal with the passion of homosexual couples?

Guiraudie: Yes I have seen it. For me the main point in Blue is the Warmest Color, as with my movie, is that homosexuality is not the subject of a film. It is a film that shows love between people of the same sex involved in a passionate love affair, homosexuality is just evident. There is no problem with that. But Blue is the Warmest Color is not directed by a homosexual director, and that makes a big difference. I don’t know what it means for a straight man to direct sex scenes between two women. There is a long sex scene in the film, he likes to see the girls together [Laughs] and you can see this in some straight porn films where there is often a scene between two women. Men love to see women together. It is kind of an spectacular film, but these sex scenes are on the side of an spectacular film. I didn’t like this movie so much, and I think it is very different from my movie, but overall I was very impressed by the film and the actresses.

Stranger by the Lake is being released by Strand Releasing first in NYC and L.A. following by a roll-out to other markets.

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