It is easy to forget that the setting for Alain Guiraudie’s darkly funny drama-thriller L’Inconnu Du Lac (Stranger by the Lake) is the beach surrounding a lake in France. Viewers would be forgiven for forgetting about the beach and the part it plays in telling the story of the films location, seemingly separating it from the rest of the world. The films soundscape and graphic sexual content both do a lot to distract the viewer from the beach itself.
Note that I used the term distract, rather than detract. While there is a long list of other components to the film that make it a wonderful piece of art, the location, and the importance of the beach as a dividing line between what is viewed as heterosexual normality and a densely wooded area adjacent to the beach where the films entirely male cast are able to exist as freely and openly as they wish. The beach also divides pleasure from pain, initially a murder is committed in the lake itself, the antagonist leaving the water and instantly returning to his previously carefree lifestyle. While, on the beach itself and just beyond it characters are regularly shown to be engaging in their base desires with a multitude of partners. The beach being a place where people are known to relax and have fun and release their pent up frustration and baggage, means that these men are finally able to freely explore desire, attraction and emotion. Clothing is optional and so, apparently, are inhibitions.
There is also the contrast between two characters that exist either side of the main protagonist Franck (played brilliantly by Pierre Deladonchamps) Firstly there is Henri, who is sweet, wise and good natured, he is older, somewhat flabby and gruff. Franck befriends him immediately; Henri avoids the beach and prefers to sit on the rocks overlooking the lake, he appears to epitomise caution, restraint and protection. The contract to this is the overtly sexy Michel, who immediately captures Francks attention and insists on only ever meeting at the beach. Michel is revealed to be a murderer, he is 100% sin, temptation, and recklessness. Henri’s direct opposite.