In the case of Alain Guiraudie’s relentlessly weird Staying Vertical, there may not be anything to do except surrender to the strangeness. The story follows the peripatetic Léo (Damien Bonnard), a screenwriter suffering from writer’s block, as he explores the southwestern French countryside. He meets a shepherdess (with whom he forms a relationship, and then immediately has a child); her father (who eventually makes a pass at him); and a young man (who serves as the caretaker of an elderly grouch that likes to blast Pink Floyd from his living room). Throughout, Guiraudie maintains a digressive style that gives the pastoral story a mythic, borderline surrealist air, ruminating on themes of urbanity and provincialism, human connection, and familial responsibility with the (il)logic of a dream.
“There is no script,” says Leo, after being hounded by his editor, a phrase that some might derisively throw back at the film in frustration. Granted, Staying Vertical’s structure isn’t exactly perfect. Its relentless strangeness is often difficult to latch onto, and the various narrative strands don’t quite come together as naturally as one would hope. But there’s an overall design that’s cannier (if not necessarily more effective) than a more straightforward treatment of similar themes would be. As obliquely suggested by its title, Staying Vertical is an exploration of what it means to be human, to stay on one’s two feet, alert and open to the world—and while not everything about the film may work, with the magnificent ending, at the very least, Guiraudie delivers on that concept.
Published as part of Vancouver International Film Festival 2016 | Dispatch 3.