“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)