A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
At a press conference for this film at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, its writer/director Alain Guiraudie said “Sex is more important than sexuality. It’s a world of pleasure but sex can also be a world of suffering. Sometimes sex is scary. It’s the origin of the world and maybe the end of the world too.”
One thing’s for sure: In “Staying Vertical,” every character has sex on the brain, all the time. The movie opens with a windshield view of a rural road; after the car passes a foxy male adolescent, it turns around, and soon enough its driver is approaching the kid, asking him if he wants to be in pictures. The kid, Yoan (Basil Mielleurat) has a couple of homophobic disdainful comebacks, but Leo (Damien Bonnard), a soulful-eyed sad-sack in early middle age, protests that it’s not like that, he’d only like him to “audition.” Rejected, Leo drives off past the nearby house from which emanates loud psychedelic music, where an older man, possibly the kid’s dad, sits. After navigating a curve in the road that we’ll see again and again (the effect reminds one of Kiarostami’s “The Wind Will Carry Us,” a more chaste and largely better film), Leo finds himself sitting on a hilltop chatting with a young shepherd woman Marie (India Hair). They briefly discuss the local shepherding situation; “I’m into wolves,” Leo allows. Then, boom, her hand is rubbing the crotch of his jeans, and then boom, we’re in her bedroom, Guiraudie providing a shot of the nude actress’ lower half that’s a direct homage to Courbet’s painting “The Origin of the World” (look it up), and there they go. Then, soon enough, Leo finds himself running away from a rough-hewn male rustic, uttering the immortal line “Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t sleep with my son’s grandpa.”
Maybe this is just what it’s like in France. I’ve been there several times, and it wasn’t like that for me, but I didn’t spend much time in rural areas, so that could have made all the difference.
Anyway. I know, I know—what’s this “son’s grandpa” bit? I admit, I did leave some stuff out just now. Which is: Leo hits the pregnancy jackpot first time out with Marie, and before you can say “jump cut,” there’s an explicit and unsimulated one-take childbirth scene, hemorrhoids and blood and all. And you thought being a film critic was all skittles and beer. (In the press conference I quoted, Guiraudie said “I was actually outside the delivery room. If I’d have been in there, it would have been more complicated. It would have been more violent.” One French mother is surely grateful that he never got through the door, I bet.) “I never thought this would happen to me,” Leo says, and as he’s a filmmaker you might take him for a stand in for Guiraudie, and since Guiraudie is a prominent figure in Queer French Cinema you might think, “Well bien sur,” but come on, the whole point is that life is complicated. So after rejecting the advances of his sort-of father-in-law, trying to reconcile with Marie, who’s taken off without the baby after experiencing post-partum depression, or maybe frustration with Leo’s lack of sexual interest (conveyed in a way as explicit as the childbirth scene, or something), Leo goes back to the house where Yoan lives with the old man. It’s the old man, Marcel, who listens to that loud psychedelic music (“It’s Pink Floyd,” he shouts to Leo, except it isn’t). And Marcel’s not Yoan’s father, rather they live together in some kind of arrangement with a, yup, sexual dimension.
This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...
A look at John Sayles' brilliant "The Brother From Another Planet."