Before premiering Stranger by the Lake to universal acclaim at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, French director Alain Guiraudie had produced a genuinely unique body of work that now comprises three shorts, two seminal hour-long films and four features, all exuberant, elegant depictions of the lives of idiosyncratic individuals and their small communities in rural France. In detailing the workings of these communities, Guiraudie (b. 1964) pays special attention to the circulation of homoerotic desire among men – not so much the glossy urban hipsters typically associated with the gay community, but usually working – or solidly middle-class men in the provinces with a variety of bodies: old, young, skinny, overweight.
Guiraudie first garnered recognition with two medium-length works in 2001: Sunshine for the Scoundrels and That Old Dream that Moves. The writer-director himself has characterized these films as representing “two modes into which I want to plunge, between documentary and fiction, dream and reality, the light and the serious. My approach to Sunshine for the Scoundrels was the imaginary, the fable, heroic fantasy, injected with the social and the real. For That Old Dream That Moves, it was the opposite approach: starting with the social, then making it shift towards the imaginary.”
In the world of Guiraudie’s films, his characters may be subject to the laws of a distant and unsympathetic authority, but the greatest danger is alienation and boredom. In response, Guiraudie gives free rein to his imagination, particularly in his earlier work, in which the line between dream and reality is often thin. Those films are filled with constantly shifting tones, mixing the real and the fantastic, comedy and tragedy, betraying the director’s penchant for fanciful narrative. The two most recent films increasingly stick to realism, but with an undercurrent of mystery regarding the behavior of often unpredictable protagonists. Above all, Guiraudie’s films resemble fairy tales, in which innocent protagonists – whatever their age – must confront monsters and villains. There is nothing escapist about these fairy tales, however; they represent brilliantly original re-imaginings of our alienated age, presented in distorted form so we may see it differently.
This program is presented with the support of Unifrance; the Film Office of the French Cultural Ministry, New York; the Institut Français; and the Consulate of France in Boston.
Special thanks: Dennis Lim, Isa Cucinotta – the Film Society of Lincoln Center, New York; Florence Almozini – the Film Office of the French Cultural Ministry, New York; Florence Charmasson – Unifrance; Eric Jausseran – the Consulate of France in Boston.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Éric Bougnon, Guillaume Viry,
France 2005, 35mm, color, 92 min. French with English subtitles
Time Has Come was Guiraudie’s second feature film and remains, with That Old Dream That Moves, the most overtly political of his films. Like Sunshine for the Scoundrels, Time Has Come takes place in an alternate reality, similar to ours, but ordered according to the logic of epic fantasy and the Western. Whereas the earlier film celebrated a certain ludic utopianism, Guiraudie here emphasizes the risks of dreams of escape. The film presents a world of bandits, warriors and shepherds in which each of the central characters pursues the hope of a better future, or at least the consummation of an improbable desire, only to find it frustrated by the reassertion of the present order by the powers that be.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Ludovic Berthillot, Hafsia Herzi,
France 2009, 35mm, color, 97 min. French with English subtitles
The King of Escape might be Guiraudie’s most accessible work to date. In broad outline, its tale of Armand, a middle-aged, big-bellied gay man, being pursued amorously by an attractive teenaged girl named Curly sounds like an eccentric romantic comedy. While there’s plenty of humor, it derives not from courtship but from randy desire and polymorphous perversity. The King of Escape’s oscillation between erotic utopia and a dystopia of patriarchy and state surveillance ultimately makes it less a farce than a kind of political fairy tale, complete with love potions. Guiraudie’s ultimate irony is that what brings the law down on Armand is not his cruising the woods for sex with men – after all, everyone knows he’s gay – but instead his unexpected deviation from that normalized identity.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Thomas Suire, Thomas Blanchard, Laurent Soffiati
Austria/France 2003, 35mm, color, 104 min. French with English subtitles
Guiraudie’s first full-length feature film follows a young man, warned in a dream that he’ll die the next time he wakes up, as he wanders between two towns as well as between reality and fantasy. Is he a mass murderer on the run from a bounty hunter, or is he the lover of a much older man in the picturesque countryside? Eventually, this matrix of incompatible but intersecting realities and shaggy-dog narratives becomes a road movie as hunter and hunted switch roles. The most surrealistic of Guiraudie’s films, No Rest for the Brave resembles a cross between Cocteau and Carax, its main character a male Alice who’s fallen down a wormhole, not chasing a White Rabbit but running from death, the little death of the workaday world.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Pierre de Ladonchamps, Christophe Paou, Patrick d’Assumçao
France 2013, digital video, color, 97 min. French with English subtitles
Guiraudie’s latest film details several edenic summer days and evenings at a cruising ground on the shore of a lake in the French countryside. The film establishes, with scrupulously observed realism, the rituals of cruising and anonymous sex – presented copiously onscreen – among the men who come to the beach, including Franck who is particularly attracted to a handsome newcomer while also taking the time to befriend an older man who sits at a slight distance, out of the action. When this idyll is disturbed by a murder, the subsequent actions and reactions of the men at the lake reveal the mysteries of desire, which can be insatiable and even irrational.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Alain Guiraudie, Isabelle Girardet, Michel Turquin
France 2001, 35mm, color, 55 min. French with English subtitles
The earlier of Guiraudie’s two medium-length films looks forward to both No Rest for the Brave and The King of Escape with its tale of a young woman who falls in love with a gay shepherd. During their wanderings, they cross paths with a bandit – played by the director himself – as well as the bounty hunter who’s pursuing him. Sunshine for the Scoundrels announces Guiraudie’s fascination with loners and oddballs, his extravagant imagination and his affection for the rough landscape of France’s Massif Central, whose ruggedness gives the film the flavor of an eccentric Western.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Jean-Claude Fenet, Alain Guiraudie
France 1990, digital video, 13 min. NOTE: IN FRENCH WITH NO ENGLISH SUBTITLES
Guiraudie’s first film concerns two young men engaged in a favorite pastime: hanging out and talking. Specifically, they wait in the square of a small town for a third: the potential funder of their proposed magazine.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Pierre Louis-Calixte, Jean-Marie Combelles, Jean Ségani
France 2001, 35mm, color, 51 min. French with English subtitles
Hired to dismantle and ship an elaborate machine, a young specialist arrives in a small town during the last days of a factory about to close. His arrival is treated with friendliness and suspicion by the few remaining workers, while his relations with their supervisor seem charged with unacknowledged feelings. Once all realize that the specialist is gay, an uneasy and ambiguous triangle forms between this newcomer, the supervisor and the oldest of the workers. This film portends the spatial strategy of Stranger by the Lake: we never leave the factory, its locker room and adjacent picnic grounds. This constraint focuses our attention on the subtleties of the ways the men interact as well as their implications, both political and erotic.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Stéphanie Valgalier, Jean-Marie Fertey, Christian Ducasse
France 1994, 35mm, color, 11 min. French with English subtitles
A young man working as a kind of neighborhood watchman walks the narrow streets of a small French village at night, wondering out loud what he should do with his life and what he wants to do, in between chasing a vandal, asking an older man for advice and confronting a band of young punks.
Directed by Alain Guiraudie. With Morgan Nicolas, Martial Petit, Polo
France 1997, 35mm, color, 16 min. French with English subtitles
This playful precursor to Time Has Come presents an imaginative alternate universe in a forest peopled with heroes, brigands, highwaymen and dandies. While tracking a bandit who has kidnapped a young girl, three warriors discuss their existential problems at length.