TIFF 2013: Stranger By The Lake & Moebius
Having missed Blue is the Warmest Colour at TIFF this year, I went for another gay-themed film from Cannes: Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake. Blue might have won the Palme D’Or, but Stranger actually took home the Queer Palme this year in France (given out to the best film about LGBTQ issues at Cannes every year). After seeing it, I can understand why the judges at Cannes were so taken by it. It’s a top-notch thriller, and it directly addresses certain issues with gay lifestyles that haven’t been explored as much in the past.
Stranger By The Lake
Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) goes to visit a lake where men like to sunbathe in the nude. He starts chatting with Henri (Patrick d’Assumçao), an older man who sits alone and fully clothed. Their friendly conversation is interrupted when Franck lays his eyes on Michel (Christophe Paou), a good-looking man who ends up walking alone into the woods. The forest next to the lake is where men go to sleep with whoever they fancy at the beach, and Franck tails him only to see him having sex with another man.
Franck’s disappointment turns into fear when, the next day, he sees Michel drown the other man in the lake. It doesn’t take long for Michel (who obviously isn’t aware of what Franck witnessed) to take a liking to Franck, and soon the two are in a passionate relationship fueled by lust. Franck’s falling head over heels for Michel, but at the same time he’s not sure if he might end up becoming Michel’s next victim.
People may find Franck to be stupid for falling in love with a murderer, but Alain Guiraudie brilliantly finds a way to make his actions understandable. Early on Franck is seen asking one of his hookups at the beach if they can have unprotected sex, which they flat-out refuse. “I trust you” Franck says, making the other man ask if Franck usually trusts people so easily. Franck’s approaches to sex and Michel are one and the same, both fueled by similar desires and flirting with seriously dangerous consequences. It’s a brilliant move on Guiraudie’s part, and at times it makes for a scathing criticism of the cruising lifestyle (or, more generally, promiscuous sex).
If the parallels Guiraudie establishes don’t resonate with viewers, the tone he establishes definitely will. Stranger By The Lake is incredibly precise in its execution, utilizing only several locations (the parking lot, the woods surrounding the lake, the shore and the lake itself) and taking place over ten days. The location is gorgeous, with most of the film’s soundtrack devoted to the sounds of nature or wind blowing through the trees. There’s a quality to the location that makes so much of the story, even the more preposterous elements, feel natural in their execution. The pace may be a little too relaxed at times, and I’ll admit the ending left me feeling a little cheated, but Guiraudie is in total control for the entire film. It’s an expertly realized thriller, and deserving of its Queer Palme.
I’ll try to be brief for my last film: In a last-minute decision I decided to check out Moebius, Kim Ki-Duk’s latest look at everything terrible about humanity. I said in my last update that I had the craziest day at the festival in all my years of going, but this one film came very close to topping the insanity of what I saw the day before. Whether that’s a good or bad thing I can’t say because, by the end of Moebius, I really didn’t give a shit.
Shot without a single line of dialogue for no apparent reason other than for the sake of it, Moebius opens with a family in disarray. The father is cheating on his wife with a shopkeeper, and their teenage son is right in the middle of their fights. One night the wife takes things into her own hands by trying to slice off her husband’s penis while he’s sleeping. He wakes up just in time to stop her, so she merely glides over to her son’s room and chops his off instead. To make matters worse, she decides to chew and swallow her son’s severed member just to make sure he can’t get it re-attached.
That’s where Moebius starts, and it only goes downhill from there. Father and son team up to Google for anywhere that can transplant penises, while the son discovers that extreme pain is the only thing that can bring him to orgasm. This usually involves getting his father’s mistress to stab him and vigorously wiggle the knife around inside him until he ‘finishes.’
The shock factor will entice many (I’m sure my descriptions alone have peaked your interest slightly), but it’s not worth it. Moebius isn’t a bad film per se, I’ll admit that Kim brings out some visceral qualities and a few good laughs through his cheap handheld style, but I really saw no purpose for what was unfolding on screen. By the time I got through an elongated rape scene and scenes of people rubbing skin off their feet with rocks, I more or less shrugged my shoulders and gave up. I let Moebius do its thing, and I just sat there and watched it happen. I said I’d try to be brief, and while this is a little long it’s mostly been describing what goes on in Moebius. And in a way that’s all it’s really good for. It’s something twisted you can tell other people about, but looking for anything beyond its grotesque surface is a waste of time.
A final festival wrap-up of the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival which includes my Top 20 films of the festival.