Earlier this week I had the good fortune to catch a screening of Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger By The Lake at the Harvard Film Archive, which was followed by a discussion with the director. The film is a psychological thriller that trades scintillatingly on the fantasy scenarios of gay pornography; I was particularly struck by its evocation of Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand (and was surprised to hear Guiraudie claim during the Q&A that he was unfamiliar with Poole’s work). Like the first act of Boys, Stranger By The Lake is set entirely at a beach and an adjacent wooded area where gay men of various ages and body types come to cruise, swim, sunbathe, gaze, chat. The film’s main character, Franck—attractive, well-built, congenial—gradually develops intimate relationships with two other regulars, one of them a gentle, soft-bodied man, curious to explore his sexuality in middle age, who sits alone near the edge of the trees, the other a tall, dark, handsome sex god (he looks like a young Chad Douglas) who confidently prowls the beach. Franck’s safety is compromised when he becomes involved with the latter of the two men, even after having witnessed him drown another of his sex partners in the lake.
I’m moved to post a few words in remembrance of Philip Seymour Hoffman, the news of whose passing last weekend came as a devastating shock to all of us who loved and admired his work. I can think of few modern actors whose performances were as consistently great, even in second-rate films like The Ides of March, Cold Mountain, and Capote, for which he won his only Academy Award. (He was nominated for three others.) When the material was middling, he elevated it; when it was as smart as he was, he could be electrifying, as in his frequent collaborations with Paul Thomas Anderson. (They worked together on five films, and Anderson once said that the beautifully gentle character he wrote for Hoffman in Magnolia  was intended to prevent him from being typecast as perverts and weirdos. Whether it was Anderson’s doing or not, the range of Hoffman’s roles from that point on widened considerably.)