Director: Alain Guiraudie
Stars: Damien Bonnard, India Hair
4 (out of 5) Globes
It would be wrong to call the films of Alain Guiraudie comedies, but what are they? Deadpan but so much more, they present worlds where absurdity is the norm and you just have to go with the flow. In his last film, “Stranger by the Lake,” no one, least of all the filmmaker, batted an eye while hanging out at a gay cruising site whose male patrons truly let it all hang out.
His latest, “Staying Vertical,” doesn’t have quite the same sellable hook. In fact, it sounds like a lot of random nonsense. It follows a screenwriter, Leo (Damien Bonnard), as he journeys from city to country, back and forth. His life is as fluid as his sexuality, with him knocking up a farmer’s daughter (India Hair) but also, unsuccessfully, making on a strapping young man (Basile Meilleurat). Sometimes life seems to leap forward suddenly and with no warning, as when the farmer's daughter produces a toddler almost instantly. And a couple of times Leo journeys deep into a forest, where a doctor attaches vines to him via suction cups, or something.
Got that? Thing is, you’ll be OK. Guiraudie is a gentle filmmaker whose films are too graceful with their weirdness to be off-putting, or even to make you want to "solve" them. His latest seems to be a rumination on freedom and free will. Leo won’t be one of those heroes who gradually learns the importance of commitment. Sometimes he’s even heroic — a noble rebel in the face of obstinate stick-in-the-muds, including an old man (Raphael Terry) who wants nothing but to sit in his comfy chair and blast prog, speaking up only when he wants to bray homophobic epithets. But Leo’s not doing much with his freedom. His life proves to be circular: He goes to the same places in the city, the same places in the country. He appears to want something, but has no idea what it is, and he may never find it.
But even intuiting that Guiraudie’s making a study in contrasts may be going too far. He makes films where the pleasure for the viewer is just being inside of them, figuring out how these curious worlds work, chuckling at the po-faced way their strangeness unfolds. Even in the final moment, when Guiraudie issues what looks like a final thought (that doubles as an explanation-of-the-odd-title), its suddenness and leftfield-ness seems both bold and funny. Speaking of bold and funny, the film's true centerpiece doesn't come till late, but it's the kind of shocking what-am-I-watching? barnburner that will be etched on your brain forever.