Cannes 2013 Review – L’Inconnu Du Lac

L’inconnu du lac  is a beautifully shot, atmospheric summer revelry. During the prime days of summer, homosexual men travel to a beach by a lake, and go into the neighbouring woods to procure some quick, easy, and discreet summer fun. Every day Franck (Pierre Deladonchamps) visits the beach to cruise potential liaisons, and though he seems to be on good terms with many of the nudists, he rarely finds someone he cares to hook up with. When he meets Henri (Patrick D’Assumçao), a middle-aged Fassbinder look-alike who sits by the edge of the beach, staring into the lake, never pursuing any trysts, Franck forms an unconventional acquaintance with him. As his friendship with Henri deepens, Franck also meets Michel (Christophe Paou), the epitome of a mysterious, charming 1970s porn star, and he is finally ready to participate in a seductive tango.

The syntax of L’inconnu du lac is very thoughtful: gorgeous establishing wide shots of the beachgoers’ vehicles, parked by an entrance to the woodland trail, orients a feeling of the passage of time, demarcating the beginning of each new day. The film is entirely set in this beach/woodlands location, and the exclusive use of this setting creates a wonderful sense of tension and claustrophobia, even though everything takes place out in the open. Anything that happens away from the retreat (for example, there are allusions to Franck meeting Henri for drinks) stays offscreen, keeping the viewer engaged and intrigued by the mystery.

One of the film’s great virtues is its ambiguity. No cell phones are used in the film, the vehicles are very old, and the co-lead looks like a 1970s porn star, but the wardrobe is contemporary, making it difficult to pinpoint an era in which the film takes place. And this ambiguity extends its relevance to the gay angst that reflects upon many eras. It stresses the reality that anonymity and discretion are essential for many of these beachgoers, and conveys the loneliness and fear in which these men live. Eventually their lifestyle is threatened when a dead body washes ashore, and their caution and reticence become more important than ever…