“Staying Vertical”: A filmmaker goes on a bizarre road quest in rural France

Staying Vertical” (“Rester vertical”) is a bizarre new erotic mystery film by Alain Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake”). The film sometimes seems like high class porn with a story, but we really wonder whose narrative is really being told.

A thirty-something filmmaker Leo (Damien Bonnard) explores a rural area in Provence looking for material for a new film, an contacting people who come across as alter-egos.  As the film progresses, we learn he gets money wired by a benefactor or sponsor (Sebastien Novac) whom we will eventually find may have some supernatural motive of his own.  (I’m reminded of the 1980 film “Wolfen”, as well as all the cattle mutilation stories).  When he gets back to some secret motel he tries to write a screenplay (in Final Draft).  But most of the time he hangs around this sheep farm, crashing and trying to make himself useful.

He has taken a liking to the teen Yoan (Basile Meilleurat) who is properly suspicious as he takes are of his dying dad. But soon he settles with a farm family and hooks up with the daughter Marie (India Hair) and quickly has child with her.  We learn that the film is spanning many months when the film shows the childbirth explicitly. Soon (without explanation) Marie leaves him to care for the baby as he wanders in his own wildnerness.

There are a couple of bizarre sequences where Leo kayaks (with the baby) through a bayou to a cabin in the woods occupied by a sage nurse, who hook his body up to electrocardiographs and brain monitors.  Conveniently, he has little chest hair.  Then he gradually starts attracting attention of other older gay men who fear he cannot take care of the baby.

Near the end there is sequence where Leo gives Yoan’s dying father an erotic  wish to remember for eternity as he dies.  Imagine if you stay fixed in time as you die in your last moment.  Maybe that’s what I would want.

The film presents a very loose way of life, crashing in people’s homes or farms and expecting to be offered radical hospitality, and even winding up homeless and destitute with child, begging from strangers (pandhandling), and somehow recovering.  It’s odd that a screenwriter would need to learn to live this way, off the books and off the radar, very good at creating his own immediate, local social capital.  But sometimes, like the Rich Young Ruler, one can have too much to lose.

The film showed at the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center and supposedly some women walked out.  There is the impression that a lot of sex acts happen “out of need”.  The comments about the euthanasia-sex scene occur at about 20:00 in the QA.  Another comment is that in the film men care for other men than for women.  Oddly, the director doesn’t perceive the film as suspenseful.  But I did – what is going on?

Wikipedia scenery from Provence, link.

Wkiipedia scene of Brest, France, where the urban scenes were filmed, link. (Bayeux and Caen are the closest to here I have gotten, in 1999).

Other image: Mine, near Mineral VA (2011 earthquake site) and “Twin Oaks” intentional community, which I have visited before.  Also, near Lincoln Center.

Name: “Staying Vertical”
Director, writer:  Alain Giraudie
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed: Private screener free on Vimeo from Strand; was at New York Film Festival in Lincoln Center
Length:  101   (Language: French with subtitles)
Rating: Not given but would normally be NC-17. This is what Roger Ebert would have called a legitimate film for adults, that needs to be very explicit, especially to deal with unusual sexuality and personal identity issues
Companies:  Strand Releasing, Wild Bunch
Link:   Strand    Book date May 2, DVD available May 17 

(Posted Friday May 5, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“12”: Russian adaptation of “12 Angry Men” is mostly stage play, with disturbing war backdrop, and a subtle warning at the end

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Name: 12” (remake of “12 Angry Men”
Director, writer:  Nikita Mikhalov
Released:  2007
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix DVD (also available on Amazon instant)
Length 160
Rating R
Companies: Sony Pictures Classics, MGM, United Artists
Link; languages no site available; in Russian with subtitles

The 2007 Russian film “12”, by Nikita Mikhalov is indeed based on Sidney Lumet’s 1957 classic “12 Angry Men”, based on the play by Reginald Rose. It’s long, 160 minutes, but quite riveting if someone is ready to serious drama.  Subtitles help, but this is probably even more interesting for Russian-fluent speakers because the obvious idioms and social and particularly Russian political context in the script.

The plot centers around the jury deliberations on the trial of a boy accused of murdering his stepfather in Moscow, after he had been taken from Chechnya when his parents had been killed in the civil war.  The film seems timely in retrospect because of the history of the Tsarnaev family in the Boston Marathon attack in 2013.

Much of the deliberation occurs in a school gymnasium, set up as an arena stage, giving the look of a Lars van Trier film (like “Dogville”).  The jurors perform a lot of antics, and in a “New Wave” maneuver, a wild songbird (canary) flies around the room.

The film is punctuated with the back story of urban guerilla war in Chechnya, with scenes that are quite graphic and brutal, as well as some black and white background rural footage (the film is shot in full wide screen).

In the beginning, only one juror (Sergei Makovetsky) wants to acquit.  Deliberations bring out the life stories of the other men (why no women) from various walks of Russian (post-Communist) life.  Included are a racist taxi driver, a television producer, a musician, and a Holocaust survivor.  Slowly, the jurors come to realize the boy was framed by organized crime.  But the foreman also realizes that if the acquit him, he will likely be targeted;  he may be safer in prison (a hidden protective custody) until the real criminals are caught.  This reminds me of other existential problems that can happen to people, like when they enter witness protection (the Lifetime film “Family in Hiding” or even the 1985 film “Witness” set in the Amish community) or even the Seattle-based cartoonist Molly Norris matter (when she had to change her identity after sponsoring a Mohammed-drawing contest in 2010 at FBI advice).  In the end, the foreman (who was an intelligence official) votes for acquittal anyway.  Some people see the denouement of the film as “pro-Putin”.

When I lived in Dallas, I got called for jury duty once every two years, since Texas has a one-day, one-trial system.  I was foreman on a weapons trial (misdemeanor, six jurors) in 1982, and we came around to conviction toward the end.

The film won awards at the Venice Film Festival and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 2008.  The film carries the brand MGM was well as Sony Pictures Classics because MGM (and United Artists) owns the original film.

By Natalia Medvedeva – http://exhibition.ipvnews.org/photo_001.php, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7003114

(Published: Friday, June 24, 2016 at 12 noon EDT)

“De Palma”: famous director of “New Wave” suspense runs through his own narrative in his films

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Name: De Palma
Director, writer:  Noah Baumbach, Jake Paltrow
Released:  2016/6/17
Format:  standard
When and how viewed: Landmark E Street, 2016/6/20, 7 PM, light audience
Length 104
Rating PG-13?
Companies:  A24  (New York Film Festival)
Link: site

De Palma: One of America’s Greatest Storytellers”, directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, consists of the 75-year old director sitting an talking about his life and his movies, with many clips.  There are no interview questions, just an auto-narrative. He also says filmmakers need to prove themselves in their 30s, 40s and 50s.

He says at the end that his entire life narrative is out there for everyone to see, including any mistakes.  That is how it is for me!  He says his entire concept for film comes from visual imagery.

He grew up in an upper income family in northern New Jersey and then near Philadelphia, and went to Columbia intending math and science, in a day people needed draft deferments.  But he describes how he got into short film, and then into the business for real.

For most of the documentary he runs through his films, and many are interesting.

I remember seeing “Greetings” (1968), rated X, in Newport News VA when I was stationed at Fort Eustis, VA, between rounds of a chess tournament.  De Palma explains how he got out of the draft, including falsely claiming homosexual tendencies.

Obsession” (1976) plays on the doppelganger idea.

He moves on to “Carrie” (1976), based on Stephen King’s famous novel about a bullied girl who gets revenge through telekinetic powers at a senior prom, and he explains how he did the effects.  None of the remakes are as good.

Dressed to Kill” (1980) is one of his most Hitchcock-inspired films.  I remember the elevator slasher scene with a notorious transvestite who then goes after a witness.  I don’t recall that “she” was genuinely transgender.  I saw the film in Dallas.  I remember the “museum” (like in “Vertigo”) and the teen and the brownstone psychiatrist.  This film is one of my favorites.

Blow Out” (1981) is another favorite, where a technician records an accident and discovers on his own that it is murder.

Body Double” (1984) is another mystery about person duplication.

Scarface” (1983) was intended to show the Miami drug underworld and wound up being filmed in LA because of objections from the Cuban and Latino communities, and is one of the most graphic crime films ever made, practically NC-17.

Wise Guys” (1986) is a mob comedy, no connection to the Christian youth play that I have seen stage-produced and as far as I know still awaits being made into a film (maybe by Sony Affirm, perhaps?)

The Untouchables” (1987) is the famous mob drama partly written by Elliot Ness.

Casualties of War” (1989) is inspired by Vietnam, and tells the story of a soldier in a unit that has kidnapped a Vietnamese girl.  Note the word “victims” isn’t in the title.  This film made an “anti-war” statement as I remember.

Bonfire of the Vanities” (1990) shows life on Wall Street, a controversial adaptation of Tom Wolfe’s novel.

Carlito’s Way” (1998) is a famous crime drama with Sean Penn and Al Pacino and a famous scene in Grand Central with a baby carriage.

Mission to Mars” (2000) was directed for Disney, provides a mysterious artificial mountain on Mars with female aliens, who claim to be the mothers of all of us.

Redacted” (2007) brings back the topic of war crimes by American soldiers, this time in Iraq.

(Published: Monday, June 20, 2016 at 11:30 PM EDT)