Monday, June 19, 2017

Movie Review: Staying Vertical

Staying Vertical ** / *****
Directed by: Alain Guiraudie.
Written by: Alain Guiraudie.
Starring: Damien Bonnard (Léo), India Hair (Marie), Raphaël Thiéry (Jean-Louis), Christian Bouillette (Marcel), Basile Meilleurat (Yoan), Laure Calamy (Doctor Mirande).

I’m struggling to find a way to describe Alain Guiraudie’s Staying Vertical – his follow-up to his acclaimed, Hitchcockian thriller Stranger By the Lake – a great thriller, set at a gay hookup spot, in which one man may very well watch another kill his lover, but finds himself drawn to him anyway. Staying Vertical doesn’t really have much in common with that film, they certainly are not the same genre, and this film has none of that films discipline or tight pacing. Both does feature rather graphic depictions of sex – but other than that, they don’t really relate to each other. Staying Vertical is a film that careens wildly down its path, which seems aimless when it begins – and will eventually confirm that suspicion. I’m not quite what to make of the film – and unlike many times when I say that, this time it isn’t meant as a compliment.
In the film, Damien Bonnard stars as Leo - film director, who has gone wondering in the French countryside. While there, he meets Marie (India Hair) – who is out with her grazing sheep, and soon the pair of them are fucking. Flash forward nine months, they now have a son, but she takes off with her two older kids to live a life of seclusion (why, I’m not sure), and he’s raising the kid by himself – but he isn’t very good at it. He spends a lot of time with Marie’s father – and also hanging out with an older man, and his younger lover he grows obsessed with. And he also heads out into the forest – via canoe – to see a doctor, who attach plant electrodes to him for his therapy. Eventually he will run into money trouble – he isn’t working after all – and help the older man die through sex (yes, he euthanizes him through sex).
Staying Vertical doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and what sense it does make isn’t very interesting. Guiraudie seemingly want to rub our face in something as an audience, but for the life of me, I cannot figure out what we’re being punished for. By making his protagonist a filmmaker, he encourages you to see Leo as his own doppelganger – but that’s not really very flattering for him – and I don’t see much of a connection. We never really know what kind of filmmaker Leo is, what sort of screenplay he’s supposed to be working on, or what happens with it after he writes some pages for his producer who shows up in the middle of nowhere one day, and proclaims the crap Leo has churned out to be brilliant.
If Staying Vertical shares anything with Stranger by the Lake, it’s in the contradiction of sex – its ability to bring pleasure and pain, to be fulfilling, and dangerous – sometimes at the same time – and how some people cannot say no, even if they should. I remember reading about Stranger by the Lake when it came out, and many saying it had little in common with Guiraduie’s other work, and if Staying Vertical is any indication, they were right. That film was great, Staying Vertical struck me as a shallow provocation, without much to say.

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