Sunday, January 19, 2014

Celebrating STRANGER BY THE LAKE's opening, the FSLC offers an Alain Guiraudie retrospective

Now that TrustMovies has seen four of the very unusual films of Alain Guiraudie (two of them twice, and one of them, a short, mostly without its English subtitles), I'm on board with the notion that this non-mainstream French movie-maker is a force with which to reckon. (The director, with the sun clearly in his eyes, is shown at left during the most recent Cannes film fest.) Though I don't know quite what to make of a couple of his earlier films, it seems to me pretty clear that with each new one, he grows more comprehen-sible and enjoyable -- unless you're the type of film-goer who demands inscrutability.

This is not to say that M. Guiraudie is anywhere near "obvious." Hardly. Instead, his movies draw you in while making you puzzle things out. But of late, he is giving his audience a bit more terra firma on which to stand while doing that puzzling. His latest film, STRANGER BY THE LAKE, (L'inconnu du lac), which I covered briefly when it played the New York Film Festival last fall (that post is here), finally opens this coming Friday, January 24, in New York (at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center and the IFC Center) and in Los Angeles on January 31 (Laemmle's Playhouse 7).

In telling its tale of a young man who goes to a gay cruising area to get his rocks off, as well to a to visit friends, Guiraudie broadens his canvas and deepens his themes. Our "hero" Franck (Pierre Delladonchamps, above, left, and below, right) meets a couple of unusual fellows -- one an overweight but interesting and presumably straight man (Patrick D'Assumçao, above, right) who may be looking for something more; 

another a hot-looking hunk (Christophe Paou, above, left) who definitely wants something more -- and so comes face to face with a creepy and hugely unsettling death wish. The result is a movie that quietly takes hold of your throat and begins ever-so-slightly to squeeze.

Interestingly, Stranger by the Lake picks up on themes and places seen earlier in M. Guiraudie's very unusual movie The King of Escape (Le roi de l'évasion): all kinds of sexuality (particularly homo- and bi-), the working class' need to offset their work with relaxation, and locations set in the glorious and sparsely populated French countryside. But as relatively lighthearted as is King of Escape, Stranger/Lake is every bit as dark, exploring our entwined needs for the fulfillment of life, love, sex and death.

Both films are quite enjoyable to watch and very well-made, with Stranger an improvement even over King -- which proved an even bigger improvement over two of Guiraudie's earlier works that I also watched in preparation for the upcoming series, titled Alain Guiraudie: King of Escape, from the Film Society of Lincoln Center which opens Friday at the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, concurrent with the debut of the filmmaker's latest work.

I covered King of Escape (stills from the film are shown above and below) when it played NYC as part of the 2010 Rendez-vous with French Cinema and found it an unusually enticing and surprising work, with a wonderfully inclusive sense of the amazements that sex of all kinds can bring. In one of its best scenes, an 80-year-old man, hung like a horse and still randy as hell (played by Jean Toscan, shown below, center), explains to his new half-his-age love, how he spent the first several decades of his marriage dutifully fucking his wife each day (along with several other ladies), never realizing till now that there was a whole regiment of men out there, just waiting to be explored and pleased.

In all, this series unleashes nine of Guiraudie's films (missing is only the movie he made for French television in 2008, On m'a volé mon adolescence). Each that I've seen seems to explore the human need for connection via the physical body. Guiraudie's 1998 short La force des chose finds that connection via physical abuse and kidnapping (not to worry: this is all on a lighter comic/philosophical plane). Although --since this was the one film, 15 minutes in length, 11 of which were shown without English subtitles, that I couldn't fully understand -- you'll have to take my ideas with a grain of salt. (What's that? Ah, I see: You do this as a matter of course.)

More interesting -- as well as, at 107 minutes, the lengthiest of Guiraudie's films I've seen -- is his 2003 NO REST FOR THE BRAVE (Pas de repos pour les braves). In some ways this is the most challenging of the four films, if also the least accessible. In it, the filmmaker tackles our fear of death (maybe also our even deeper fear of life), as his hero, Basile (played by Thomas Suire, in his film debut), plays a kid who refuses to sleep because he's afraid he'll never again awaken.

The movie itself is often like a dream: People -- the working class, as in all of his films -- come and go bizarrely; our hero moves from the City of the Living to Deadville; and there is one simply gorgeous, mystical, chilling special effect in which an old man disappears under a wave.

There is also, being French, a whole lot of philosophical... well, drivel is maybe too strong a word, but the film does veer toward pretension now and again. But it is also, from time to time, quite a lot of fun, as we engage in everything from car chases (with the villains on foot) to loveplay and hair-breath escapes. In a way this movie is a genre-jumper -- except that Guiraudie, here testing the waters with his first full-length endeavor, doesn't always seem sure which genre he's actually in.

The film is also a coming-of-age/coming-of-intelligence movie, as well as sci-fi/fantasy. So gear up for a trip and a half. If you miss it during the FSLC's retrospective, never fear. It is actually available in the USA via TLA Video where you can stream it at a reasonable price. There are five more films, full-length and short, to be seen in the series. Click here to see the entire Guiraudie schedule.

The photo of M. Guiraudie, at top, is by

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