Franck, a young French man, comes to this lake-a cruising ground for men-every summer. Scattered around the stony shore is the ubiquitous sight of clothless men, lazing, talking, looking. When they want to get off, they head into the forest. Many of the men here have wives or girlfriends.
Franck makes the acquaintance of a paunchy older man named Henri, who has just broken up with his girlfriend. They come back to the beach every day they just talk to each other, watching the glittering lake. The melancholic Henri enjoys the quiet of this place. The isolation. Henri really enjoys spending time with Franck.
One day Franck is infatuated with a man he spots (Michel) and follows him into the forest. But Franck finds Michel already with another man.
A few days later, hidden in the trees one night, Franck witnesses Michel drown his lover in the lake. Franck does not say anything to anyone, and the next day he becomes Michel's new lover.
"Stranger By The Lake" is contemporary and progressive. (The content is light-years ahead of North American film-they live in a culture of shame and immaturity.) "Stranger" is not as pornographic as the videos we are all used to seeing, but there are too many penises shown to count. Half the time the men aren't wearing clothing. Men kiss each other, and pleasure each other. Fellatio, anilingus, an erect penis ejaculating. This material is dealt with subtly and sensitivity (not that there is anything sensitive about these loveless hookups.)
So yes, there is more sexual material in this film than in every Spielberg film combined. But what's shown is not passionate loving; the hookups are casual and loveless. As well, the men are unashamed. In the forest they will have sex ten feet away from each other, and allow masturbating voyeurs to watch. When one man is interested in another, he might walk by, heading in the opposite direction, and place his hand on the man's crotch. This happens to Franck at one point, but he is not interested, and just gently moves the hand away.
The men here don't want friendship, or any sort of relationship. They just want unattached sex. At first, this is all Franck wants, too. But (as Henri warned him) he realizes that superficial sex cannot fill the emotional void, and Patreck decides that he needs something greater. Enter his manipulative, controlling, murderous lover.
"Stranger By The Lake" is a meditative observation of loose, impersonal sex (yes I realize that is a gross oxymoron) and contemporary loneliness and depression. The film is more relevant now than ever. Most relationships people have now are depthless and formal, not to mention self-serving.
There is also the beautiful idea, best expressed by Henri, that a relationship can take many different forms, beyond classification (bound with the correct notion that sexuality cannot be categorized.) As Henri says matter-of-factly, "You don't have to fuck someone to sleep with them."