Stranger by the Lake: Interview with Director

“Stranger by the Lake” was one of the highlights of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Best Director prize at the series of Un Certain Regard.  The courageous Strand Releasing is opening the film on anuary 24, 2014.

Question: “Stranger by the Lake” offers a bleak vision of the gay community, in which physical desire takes precedence over everything, including moral considerations.

AG: I actually tried to write the screenplay about heterosexuals, but it didn’t work. So the idea became to explore a world I know. For me, making movies is about mixing personal experience with something more universal, more linked to collective human experience.
The film in some ways stems from my own past sexual liberation as a gay man, when I discovered a sort of sexual utopia, a world of pleasure and liberty, without the engagements that heterosexual couples faced. There was no risk of anyone getting pregnant, for example, so there was far less pressure surrounding sex.

But I started to realize that this sexual liberation was becoming a sort of quest for sexual ecstasy at any price. The question that haunts the film is: where is this relentless search for pleasure leading us? There’s that very guilt-inducing moment in the movie when the inspector asks the protagonist: “What are you all doing? One of you has been killed, we found the body, and yet you continue as if nothing happened?”

Question: French LGBT activists have expressed frustration that gay artists in France were not more actively involved in the fight for marriage equality and adoption rights.

AG: Personally, I think marriage is ancient Judeo-Christian nonsense. That said, I would never speak out against the movement for marriage equality. I didn’t take any public stance – though I would not have been opposed to it, if asked – but I did end up getting involved a bit and marching in a few of the demonstrations in favor of gay marriage and adoption when I saw the staunch opposition. That’s what made me react. I didn’t expect the opponents of gay marriage to be so virulent.
Between your film, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winner “Blue is the Warmest Colour”, and two other movies at Cannes, Yann Gonzales’s “You and the Night” and Guillaume Gallienne’s “Me, Myself and Mum,” there seems to be a renewal of “Queer cinema” in France.
AG: I certainly would never distance myself from it. When you make a movie featuring naked men having sex with one another near a lake, the “gay” label is unavoidable.

My ambition in making this film was also to re-visit how sex is portrayed onscreen. My idea was to re-integrate graphic sex scenes into a real story, with dialogue and everything. I wanted to show that porn shouldn’t have a monopoly on sexually explicit content. But if we’re talking about a renewal of “Queer cinema” in France, that supposes there was already a “Queer cinema” here, and I’m not sure that’s true. We have François Ozon and André Téchiné, two openly gay French filmmakers whose work often deals with gay themes.
I think French cinema is just starting to move beyond the point where homosexuality is a sociological subject in and of itself – and it was certainly time to leave “La Cage aux Folles” [the original French film remade by US filmmaker Mike Nichols as “The Birdcage”] behind.

Part of the problem may be that there aren’t that many gay filmmakers in France. Maybe if there had been a more prominent gay French director in the New Wave movement–a French Fassbinder or Pasolini–things would be different.

American critics have called “Stranger by the Lake” Hitchcockian. Is he one of your references? Who are the filmmakers who inspire you?

AG: Hitchcock is so much a part of today’s cultural fabric that even if he’s not a direct influence on me, his work has had an impact. I still watch his movies regularly. The filmmakers who have really mattered to me are Bunuel and Fellini when I was young, and then later, Nanni Moretti and Pedro Almodovar. Their movies really spoke to me. And more recently, I’ve closely followed the work of the Larrieu brothers, Bruno Dumont, and Joao Pedro Rodrigues.

Next film–also gay-themed?AG:

I’ve already written the screenplay, but I need to rework it. Obviously, after “Stranger by the Lake”, things are no longer the same. I think I dug a little deeper in “Stranger by the Lake”, and so this new project may end up being more ambitious than I initially envisioned. It’s the story of a young manager sent by a big industrial group to close down a small milk factory in rural France. But the workers resist, and he decides to join them, especially since he falls in love with a slightly crazy man who works at the factory.