Alain Guiraudie

by Alice Pfeiffer

The Man Who Rows the Boat Doesn’t Have Time To Rock It
French cinema has oft addressed crimes of passion, but Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the Lake discusses infatuation breeding an accomplice. “I was looking to explore what having someone get under your skin can really mean,” says the Pyrénées-born director. Set in
a gay nudist beach in France, the story follows a man who falls fiercely in love with a murderer, whom he then tries to protect. Premiering at Cannes, the feature has been applauded by critics for its respectful depiction of a niche microcosm, while simultaneously telling a universal tale. Until now, 49-year-old Guiraudie was best known for his social dramas—but Stranger proves his ability to deliver
a story both subtly engagé and timeless.

What were you looking to do when you set yourself out to make this film? I wanted to look at the question of passionate love—pretty French, right? I was interested in obsession and the idea that great moral questions suddenly have no weight when they’re confronted with desire. I imagined a triangle between three men, with sexual attraction on one end and an ambiguous friendship on the other. I enjoyed playing with codes of other genres, notably thrillers. Several people mentioned Alfred Hitchcock, and although that’s someone
I didn’t consciously think of, [he’s] a director I’ve worshipped for years so I’m sure it’s seeped in somehow. I liked the idea that small-scale preoccupations are mixed with grand narratives of theatre, cinema.

Would you qualify your film as an intrinsically gay tale, or a universal love story? It’s funny—it’s my gayest film so far. In fact, it addresses a tiny homosexual microcosm, because not all gay men spend their time hitting on other men on beaches. But paradoxically it is also my most universal one. The values, morals, [and] sentiments—from intricate friendship to mad love—apply to everyone round the world. Nevertheless, it has stereotypically gay elements;
a type of flirtation and hypersexuality. I purposely kept the tale set in
a homosexual environment. I initially thought of placing it in a swingers-type situation, but I thought, why would introducing a girl or making it heterosexual give it more of a universal value? So, in other words, the film stages gay men to tell a tale of love and passion for everyone.

The entire film takes place by a lakeside. Why is that? I wanted to create a setting organized like a Greek tragedy: a unity of time, place, and action. Introducing bedrooms, hotel halls, and restaurants would have diluted the message, made it banal. Suddenly, it felt that everything that happened off-screen took place in real life. Temporality was especially important. The film looks as if it could have happened over a month or over 10 days. It’s a highly concentrated time sequencing that densifies time and gives it, I hope, a myth-like quality.

What about the soundtrack? You only used natural sounds but made them more intense, almost hyperreal. Yes, I left this part extremely natural. I wanted to take everything from the shoot location to turn it on its head and give it a surreal twist. Even the sounds of the planes were real. We intensified some at times, but overall,
I liked the idea of creating something extraordinary out of something natural. It adds a timeless quality that everybody can identify with, rather than aggressively dubbing the film with a specific soundtrack.

If your film is a universal tale of love, isn’t murder a little radical? In many ways, the use of murder in my film is a metaphor for the end of
a romantic encounter. The hero’s love interest has sex and then gets rid of the men—and isn’t killing your partner the most radical way of getting rid of him? [Laughs] It’s an image of course, but it’s a way of talking about the end of an affair, of love. In a way, I recognize myself in all the characters. I’ve been these three men: the good friend, the romantic, and the sex consumer who gets rid of men once he’s done. It’s frequent, and it’s life.