One wet Friday afternoon in Covent Garden where we lay our scene, found FLUX Magazine attempting to get under the skin of Alain Guiraudie’s sixth feature film Stranger by the Lake.
Joined by the writer-director we entered a discussion of his tale of lust, sex, violence and murder set in a secluded and idyllic lakeside setting.
Yes, it seems Alain is one of a string of filmmaker who just cannot resist tainting the picturesque with a touch of blood. After a successful showing at Cannes which saw Stranger by the Lake walk away with the Queer Palm for film and director, it has gone on to garner praise from critics and audiences alike.
During the course of our conversation, Alain spoke of creating a mythical world, sexual consumerism, spatial poetry versus metaphor and how one of life’s great mysteries remains an the unanswerable question – one even he is unable to answer for us.
FLUX: Stranger by the Lake sees you create a world within a world. A film typically set in one-location demands a masterful use of atmosphere, character and space as demonstrated by Hitchcock’s Lifeboat and Lumet’s 12 Angry Men. How did you go about striking these filmic beats?
Alain Guiraudie: The initial starting point was this idea of the unity of one space, but I kept coming back to a project I had already done before. I am not interested in people eating in restaurants or people in their houses. I wanted to keep it in that space because by showing that other side I find it ultimately trivialises the essence of what you are trying to say. The idea was that whilst it’s a public space, the lake was to be this enclosed space under the open sky. I can’t say it is something I thought of initially, but despite the open sky the space closes as it gets tighter and tighter. It’s something I discovered when I was preparing the film and discovered all the more so as we were editing. But the main point was not to trivialise the subject matter, but to bring something mythical to this little world by the lake.
FLUX: You have remarked that there is “An urgent need to rediscover sex as an interaction that may also be based on dialogue, seduction and love.” The dialogue scenes are at the heart of the film, but what I would add to your thoughts is that it is also death, murder and the complete possession of life. Michel could be said to consume his lovers who the prey to his predator.
Alain Guiraudie: There are a lot of themes in there, but first of all I conceived this film with thoughts of love, death and how far do you go to live your desire? In the seventies you had sexual liberation and I also had this in mind; this kind of hedonistic way of life which came with the idea of emancipation. Where did this sexual freedom lead us – to a very consumer like attitude and relationship towards sex? Whilst it’s true that I thought of Michel as this Greek God, I also thought of him as an ultra-liberal sex consumer.
FLUX: You have spoken of the space being poetic, but it also seems to have an identity as a set of spatial metaphors – the shore being the fringe and space of the erotic, whilst the woods are the sexual space and the lake is the void.
Alain Guiraudie: There is something with the different spaces but I think it’s more from the mise-en-scène and the cinematographic rather than semantics. It is a different vision of things, but in having said that, if you’ve seen what you describe, and you felt it then it must be there.
There is something to be said for this idea of the fringe, this border or fringe of society because they are on the edge of the world. In terms of the spaces and the elements I made them function more with the film, and these different spaces are very, very pleasant and attractive but also worrying and dangerous. I can’t say that I thought about it initially, but it is clear and obvious that the lake is functioning as a mirror.
FLUX: The three way dance between Franck, Michel and Henri appears to function as a discussion of love and passion versus sexuality. Franck’s relationship with Michel is one that embraces the experience of momentary pleasure and perhaps one could say the La petite mort (the little death). Therein Stranger by the Lake is a journey towards death, but also an act of embracing it.
Alain Guiraudie: There is this moment where you clearly go from light to darkness; from life to death. But you must not stop living because you are afraid of death. The phrase that accompanies the film is: “Eroticism is assenting to life up to the point of death.” I think it is part of the mystery of life and within the film it is this tight relationship that derives from this link between life and death. However, as it is a great mystery I am unable to explain it [laughs].
FLUX: In a previous interview you remarked, “At the point I’m at and the world is at, it seems to me that cinema’s job is no longer to represent another world, but to make do with the world as it is.” Life and death are at the heart of existence, and so is Stranger by the Lake tapping into the world as it is through this link?
Alain Guiraudie: I have to clarify this quote because it was in relation to previous films where I had a tendency to create fantasy worlds. But I also thought cinema had to be a dream or this kind of territory between dream and reality. I think you can and you should reach a sort of fantasy and dreamlike dimension, but it has to come from the starting point of reality.
Interview with Alain Guiraudie by Paul Risker.
Stranger by the Lake is released in UK theatres on the 21 February and will be abailable on VoD from 7 March.