Staying Vertical (2017; Alain Guiraudie)
By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, March 3, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.
Alain Guiraudie’s self-contained, cryptic, borderline pornographic, Hitchcock-goes-homoerotic Stranger by the Lake was a jaw-dropping breakthrough in 2013/2014, even though it was the sixth feature film for the 52-year-old French writer-director.
Staying Vertical is his highly anticipated follow-up, a film that premiered last summer at Cannes. Anyone bothered by the elliptical nature of Stranger by the Lake will get driven mad by this strange and mysterious squirm.
A fractured and scowling narrative that alternates pitiless darkness with the elements of a rollicking comedy, Staying Vertical follows Léo (Damien Bonnard), a drifting screenwriter dodging his obligations in the French countryside. Léo shacks up with and impregnates a sheep-herding single mother. However, when he can’t commit to a life together, she abandons him with the baby and her disturbed father.
Guiraudie frequently abandons the audience in the story. We drift in and out of the narrative just as Léo drifts in and out of people’s lives. Still, for all of the film’s self-infatuated drifting, Staying Vertical offers no shortage of deeply disturbing show-stopper sequences. It all peaks with a scene in which Léo tenderly sodomizes an elderly man to death while prog-rock blasts in the background. That’s not something you just watch and forget.