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Sep 10 2013

"At the Farm"or "By The Lake",Queer Films Among Best @ TIFF

This article was originally published in my column atTowleroad

The French famously call an orgasm "la petit mort"or,the little death.In two new French-language films playing at the Toronto International Film Festival (in full swing through next weekend) this euphemism forgets to be euphemistic.If you like your sex all mixed up with danger -- you know,the way straight people did during the mainstream erotic thriller years (the Glenn Close thru Sharon Stone continuum) -- consider these films 'must sees' when they hit your city. IF they hit your city.It's tough out there for art films,especially gay ones,as recently discussed ina fascinating piece at IndieWiremapping out the problems.

Prolific twenty-four year old writer/director/actorXavier Dolanhas been a sensation on the festival circuit and in Canada since his award-winning debutI Killed My Motherin 2009.Despite the accolades Dolan has yet to win the Stateside following he deserves,even among LGBT audiences.This is largely because his films are in French and they have had a weirdly hard time making their way onto US screens.I Killed My Motherwas famously delayed and delayed and delayed again.Before I received a screener a couple of years ago I was convinced that it was an imaginary movie,dreamt up by journalists to make the rest of us feel jealous that we aren't fabulous enough to party in Cannes with them each May.Dolan's subsequent features,the stylish unrequited love triangleHeartbeats(also known asImaginary Lovers) and the recently released three hour trans dramaLaurence Anywaysonly increased his wunderkind reputation.His latestTOM AT THE FARMmay well be his most accessible but reviewing it presents a challenge because the less you know about it going in the better.

Let's keep it very simpleAFTER THE JUMP...

The kick-off premise is this:a young man shows up at his lover's funeral in the country only to discover that the lover's family has no idea who he is or even that their son was gay.That's a wide open premise.It almost sounds like a creative writing challenge."And then...?"You could spin a dozen different dramas or comedies from that sentence.Dolan,adapting from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard,takes it immediately into genre territory.The tension and danger mount as the mystery of his partner's family and Tom's own hopes for departure begin to unravel.

Pierre Deladonchamps is drowning in lust in 'Stranger by the Lake'

Meanwhile across the Atlantic,Franck at the beach,who shares with Tom a certain willful masochism (though his is less self aware),is initially having a much better time of it.InSTRANGER AT THE LAKE,Franck (gorgeous Pierre Deladonchamps) spends every summer day at a remote beach where gay men wander about,often naked,having anonymous and often unsafe sex in the surrounding woods.Franck,unlike Tom,is a cypher in his own story.This beautiful young man seems to have had no life prior to or possibly after the events of the picture (in a bold but fascinating move from writer/director Alain Guiraudie,virtually everyone in the picture might well be its title character,including our protagonist).We learn so little about any character really but the disturbing allegorical thriller is so strongly conceived and composed,that we end up invested anyway.Franck falls hard for Michel (Christophe Pau),a handsome but obviously deadly looker and we worry for him far more than he worries for himself.

Sometimes it's fun to watch provocative foreign films and wonder what their dumbed down American remake would be like.Stranger by the Lake,would be virtually unrecognizable since it couldn't be made in the first place though if it were they'd obviously reverse its habit of close up nudity and long shot violence.This shocking French film caused a stir at Cannes earlier this summer with its brief moments of explicit sex but more,I would propose,for its unwavering gaze at its willing sacrificial lambs.Strangerwon two prizes at Cannes both for best queer film and for its inspired direction. Guiraudie's camera watches the violence and the sex boldly,unblinking and impassive,recording rather than judging which proves far more unsettling.

Tom at the Farmon the other hand, might survive a more mainstream translation since much of its raciest content is implied or spoken.On the other hand why make one when Dolan's is such a success and so blessed with weird nooks and zigzags of personality and a truly idiosyncratic rhythm.Dolan and his editor usually cut rightpastthe action you're expecting which forces you offbalance at all sorts of key moments,and leaves you racing to catch up to stay with its sick games.Dolan has received some criticism that he shouldn't be starring in the pictures he also writes and directs Dolan's bratty prodigy response "you can kiss my narcissistic ass"is crush-worthy but I can't help thinking that it's also maybe a little true.Tom at the Farmis a major success but the one thing that doesn't alwaysquitework is Dolan's star turn at center.He's a totally solid actor but the complicated psychological twists would've benefited from an acting prodigy every bit a match for the terrific director behind the camera,and not just in the mirror.

Chances of Release: Good.Tom at the Farmhas no immediate US release plans but a critics prize at Venice,and the film's marketable genre should speed things up.Stranger by the Lakewill be distributed by Strand,who are fairly consistent at getting gay pictures into the marketplace,however briefly,before healthy lives on DVD.

Podcasta group discussion of TIFF 13: Oscar buzz,our favorite films,and more
Ambition & Self SabotageonGravityandEleanor Rigby: Him & Her
Mano-a-Mano HallucinationsNorway'sPioneer& Jake Gyllenhaal² inEnemy
QuickiesHoneymoon,Young & Beautiful,Belle
Labor Dayin a freeze-frame nutshell
Jessica Chastainat theEleanor RigbyPremiere
August Osage CountyreactionsPlus Best Picture Nonsense
RushRon Howard's crowd pleaser
The Pastfrom Oscar winner Asghar Farhadi & Cannes Best Actress Berenice Bejo
Boogie Nights Live Readwith Jason Reitman and Friends
First 3 Screenings:Child's Pose,Unbeatableand Isabelle Huppert inAbuse of Weakness
TIFF Arrival: Touchdown in Toronto.Two unsightly Oscars亚博主页

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Reader Comments (17)

I have heard a lot about Stranger by the Lake has all been good.....

A:OC opened last night to great responses...I am not sure if all critics are going to like it,because it sounds on film more over the top than on the stage...

Variety gave it great perks ..the reviewsI have read do put Streep at the top ..the,too,if anyone cares to go to ...there are nuggets taken from whole reviews just about Streep...

My overall take is that it will probably get some noms,but the movie itself probably won't ...who knows!!!

Also,because of the reception the movie received...Streep is definitely going lead actress..

You know how Weinstein is...

September 10,2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

I have heard much about Stranger by the Lake ...all of it good

A:OC got raves last night and in the two full reviews I have read ...Streep is the standout

She is now definitely going lead for oscar...if anyone cares to see just her review taken from an entire review you can go to SimplyStreep .com

September 10,2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Where are these raves?I've been alarmed by the meh reviews I've seen that all hate the direction.

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Paul Outlaw

Variety .
..the movie got raves in standing ovations

the movie,as a whole,has not been rated too highly

I thought I was clear that I was talking about Streep ...evidently not

September 10,2013 | Unregistered Commenterrick

will every comment section about TIFF be about August?(sigh) and also OF COURSE.

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

I am very exciting for Stranger By the Lake but generally cannot stomach violence too much.How explicit is the violence,Nat?

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

I am very excited for Stranger by the Lake but generally can't stomach violence too much.How hard is the violence in this,Nat?

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterDrew

Great read.I absolutely adore the first paragraph.

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Drew -- the violence is not explicit though it it very upsetting

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Seeing Stranger by the Lake at NYFF.And this got me more curious.
I adore Dolan's works that I even bought the play for this new film.And I don't really mind him being in his own film since he's a handsome fella to look at on screen.:)

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike

Mike -- oh i like looking at him too,trust.But he saddles himself with a really bad blonde wig for some scenes (in others he appears to have just dyed his glorious mop) which kinda takes away from the beauty.

September 10,2013 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Drew,I'll be there too.I'm actually surprised Nathaniel saw it at TIFF when it'd be here just a month later!But this review does get me even more excited,so that's nice.

(Btw,what are you seeing at NYFF,Nathaniel?)

September 10,2013 | Unregistered CommenterEvan

Uncanny timing on this,as I *just* got back from seeing Tom...and Strangers...back to back on my first day at TIFF,and boy oh boy are you right on re: the affinities between the films.I thought they were both quite strong,though I think the psychological precision of Tom..was more convincing to me than the cypheriffic,somewhat heavy handed messaging of Strangers.

I also went in with lower expectations for Dolan,who is obviously talented (and adorable) but who hasn't,til now,made a movie that fully worked for me.

September 11,2013 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

My audience was NOT prepared for the graphic sexuality in Stranger by the Lake last night.I feared for the health of several of the older gentlemen in my showing last night.

November 15,2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoey

lol to expound?

November 15,2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathanielR

Just saw Strangers.Wow.What a confident director.No score,deliberate (some would say "slow,"including the older woman behind me in the audience) pacing,long shots,etc.And what gorgeous cinematography!Although it did drag in places,it reminded me of Blue is the Warmest Color in its depiction of seemingly trivial daily rituals (seeing Franck's car pull into the parking lot over and over).I loved Franck's relationship with Henri and their conversation about the different kinds of attraction between men.Although it was frustrating not quite knowing what was motivating Franck's behavior,it pulled you in that much more,making you work harder to imagine what was going on in his head.And once the Hitchcockian* twists started,with the excellent use of lighting,cinematography and sound to ratchet up the fear,it became really fascinating.And that last shot!Wow!Loved it.

* - "It really put the cock in Hitchcockian"- my corny joke I came up with halfway through the movie and had to wait the whole time until the movie was over to tell my boyfriend,who apparently did not appreciate my comedic genius.

March 1,2014 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

Once that I finally got to see "Strangers by the Lake",it now comfortably (and confidently) sits as my #1 of 2014 (so far).And I am not into slow-paced films,normally,but this one nails it all (pun intented)

December 9,2014 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

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