Stranger By The Lake (2013) — Places Made of People

It is now quite common to speak of a need for greater diversity in the media that we produce and consume, but where does this ‘diversity’ reside? Are we calling for a more representative creative class or media that speaks to the desires and interests of a more diverse population? Clearly, taking a monolithically straight, white and American cultural form such as the contemporary Superhero film and adding a few token non-whites and non-straights would do little to improve the situation. One diversity-container that frequently gets overlooked is the idea of ‘spaces’ and how those spaces help to shape experiences and build cultures. This is something of a pity as LGBT cinema does spaces better than almost any other form.

The unrivalled king of gay spaces is the French director Jacques Nolot. One-time lover of Roland Barthes and protégé of Andre Techine, Nolot has devoted his cinematic career to the marginal spaces around gay culture. His second film Glowing Eyes is set in a porn cinema and explores not only the fluid nature of the identities and relationships created by the space, but also the importance of such spaces as venues for experimentation and self-expression. While Glowing Eyes is all about a space that allows entrance to different forms of sexuality, his third film Before I Forget examines the end game and the almost post-apocalyptic spaces opened up by disease, death and the end of gay men’s lives. These is a lovely scene in Before I Forget where Nolot’s character lets himself into an old boyfriend’s house in order to secure something of value for all those years of companionship. What he finds is that the dead man’s family have swooped in to pick the place clean forming an unspoken case for gay marriage at least as powerful as the one buried in the subtext of Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Structured like a thriller, Alain Guiraudie’s Stranger by the lake is perhaps not quite as brave as Nolot’s thunderously un-commercial works but his desire to recreate and explore a gay space is no less fascinating.

 

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REVIEW : Before I Forget (2007)

It is difficult for me to articulate quite why it is that I adore Jacques Nolot’s Avant Que J’Oublie (2007), or Before I Forget as it is known to English speakers.  Ostensibly your typical French drama about middle class angst, alienation and spiritual decay, the film deals with an ageing gay man who looks back over his life with considerable bitterness as he considers all the things he lost and all the things he failed to gain.  However, while filled with negativity about his own past, the central character Pierre (played by Nolot) is gripped by terror when he thinks about the future as his health dwindles, his sex drive sputters and his days come to be consumed by talk of money, food and how he will most likely die alone.  There are hundreds of films that deal in exactly this kind of bourgeois malaise and many of them leave me completely cold. What makes Nolot’s films so special is that, unlike many dramas that aim for the universality of human emotions while achieving only the generic, Nolot’s films are specific.  They carry the specificity that comes only from the autobiographical and it is the candour with which Nolot describes his life that makes his films so uncomfortable and yet so utterly compelling.

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