English Title: Staying Vertical
Original Title: Rester vertical
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Director/Writer: Alain Guiraudie
Cinematography: Claire Mathon
After finally being put on the map among the rarified clique of international auteurs/provocateurs in the wake of all the plaudits receiving from STRANGER BY THE LAKE (2013), French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie’s next offering is as sexually bluff as his devotees could envision, STAYING VERTICAL, debuted in 2016 Cannes’ main competition, is a step-up in Guiraudie’s unrelenting probing into the mythos of sexuality, but less gripping and cohesive in its narrative nexuses, compared with SBTL.
We follow the steps of a filmmaker Leo (Bonnard), traverses cross the expansive plateau in Lozère, southern France, looking for impetus of his script in demand, where he encounters a shepherd girl Marie (Hair), and within 15 minutes of its screen-time (genitalia aplenty), he impregnates her and Marie delivers a baby boy (the unforeseen advent of an authentic parturition is as horrific as it is awe-inspiring, impresses with an almost hallow revelation how each human being is brought into this world through such an unsightly ritual), but Marie rebuffs the idea of fostering their baby together, and spirits away with her two other elder sons to the town, and leaves the newborn completely in Leo’s charge, on the condition that if a man can leave under that circumstance, why a woman couldn’t? (feminism in its progressive payback) Not a recommendable parental philosophy, but Leo has no grounds to change that.
During his constant commuting between Marie’s rural house, where he stays with Marie’s father Jean-Louis now (Thiéry, a first-time actor imbues an unforeseen tenderness contrary to his ape-like appearance, never judging a book by its cover rams home), and the modern town where he works, Leo clocks an elderly man Marcel (Bouillette), sitting outside his countryside house, attended by a young man Yoan (Meilleurat), whom in the opening scenes, Leo accosts to see if he is interested in auditioning for a movie, and the answer is a blunt no. Juggling his single-parent duty, the deadline of his clogged script and financial plight, a further involvement into Marcel and Yoan’s touch-and-go relationship, Leo’s behavior will slip into an ever-erratic r0ute (strewn with gerontophilia, euthanasia and off-center sessions in the forest) until he is deprived of the guardianship of his child. In the final chapter, a bearded Leo comes face to face with a pack of wolves, and claims that “stay vertical” is the only way to avoid the ferocious attack, the story ends there.
Overtly oblique in its message from Leo’s crucible of marshaling his life out of a murky situation, Guiraudie does something valiant to normalize pansexuality in the forefront, and continues desensitizing our inveterate cringing towards graphic sex scenes and our own body parts. Also, it is a numinous ode to the deep-dry myth of mother nature where man’s basic desire meets the formidable threat looming and haunting our human society.