Movie Reviews: Gloria & Stranger By The Lake

Bob Mondello reviews two foreign films about people struggling to make connections: the Chilean drama Gloria, and the French thriller Stranger by the Lake.

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Hollywood packs movie theaters with prestige pictures in December. After that, the movie industry mostly lets filmgoers catch up with all the awards' nominees for a few weeks. But worthy new movies still do crop up in January. This week, NPR's critic Bob Mondello finds much to admire in two foreign films. They're about people who are desperate to make connections. One is the Chilean comedy "Gloria," the other is the French thriller, "Stranger By the Lake."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: We first see the exuberant title character in "Gloria" dancing by herself in a disco in Santiago. She is middle-aged with a hairstyle and oversized glasses that Dustin Hoffman could've worn in "Tootsie." Thankfully, they look better on her. Ten years after her divorce, her grown kids don't need her. Her only regular visitor is a neighbor's cat, and she's looking to connect. Rodolfo, whom she meets at a dance club, seems just right - handsome, attentive, maybe a little too devoted to his ex-wife. But when she brings that up over lunch...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GLORIA")

PAULINA GARCIA: (As Gloria Cumplido) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: ...she does it with a smile. The deckhand seems stacked against women in her situation, but Gloria, played without a trace of self-pity by Paulina Garcia, is gamely doing the best she can with the hand she's been dealt. Yes, she sometimes makes unfortunate choices, one of which sadly is Rodolfo. Happily, when she realizes that, she's able to exact a bit of retribution and come out dancing. "Gloria" is a movie that may show its heroine being knocked around for daring to dream, but that also acknowledges the power of the dream.

The characters in the French film "Stranger by the Lake" are also looking to connect, though, not in dance halls. Picture blue-green water, pebbly beaches, dense woods, families cluster on the far side of the lake. But on the side we see, there are only men. It's a gay cruising spot frequented by mostly nude sunbathers and swimmers, many of whom come here often enough to know each other by sight, though, rarely by name.

We watch as Franck, a handsome, 30-something regular, strikes up a conversation with a newbie, pudgy, middle-aged Henri, who sits apart from the rest.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STRANGER BY THE LAKE")

PATRICK D'ASSUMCAO: (As Henri) (Foreign language spoken)

PIERRE DELADONCHAMPS: (As Franck) (Foreign language spoken)

D'ASSUMCAO: (As Henri) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: Entirely platonic encounter, just two guys talking about whether the lake is really home to a 15-foot catfish. As they talk, though, Franck eyes other men heading up to the woods for less platonic encounters. Other films might leave to your imagination what goes on in the woods. This one makes graphically explicit a Kama Sutric display of men with men, other men watching. Physical intimacy coupled with social isolation, just how much isolation becomes clear when the sun sets and from the now deserted woods, Franck watches two swimmers in the middle of the lake horsing around and then not.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "STRANGER BY THE LAKE")

FRANCOIS-RENAUD LABARTHE: (As Pascal Ramiere) (Foreign language spoken)

MONDELLO: One man's head disappears under water and doesn't resurface. The other man swims to shore, dresses, looks around and leaves. By which point, "Stranger by the Lake" has become an unnerving mix of Hitchcock's "Rear Window" and William Friedkin's "Cruising." Sex intertwined with murder, fear battling desire, and the police discovering that voyeurs don't make good witnesses if no one ever exchanges names or phone numbers. You have, observes a detective, as everyone dodges his questions, a funny way of loving each other. An indictment, clearly, although "Strangers by the Lake" suggests that for these characters, danger and desire intersect with more complexity than outsiders will ever see. I'm Bob Mondello.

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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