Wednesday, January 18, 2017

STAYING VERTICAL: Alain Guiraudie is back once more -- with yet another jaw-dropper

People do the strangest things in the films of Frenchman, Alain Guiraudie, but damned if the guy doesn't make those things somehow work. After The King of Escape and to herald the debut of Stranger by the Lake, the FSLC in 2014 hosted a retrospective of Guiraudie's work which was in itself quite eye-opening. Now comes his latest movie, STAYING VERTICAL (Rester vertical) and it is every bit as bizarre, riveting and entertaining as the rest of his oeuvre. And definitely not for the mainstream crowd.

M. Guiraudie, pictured at right, looks to my eyes remarkably like an older version of his leading man in this new film (played by Damien Bonnard, shown below and further below). The fact that M. Bonnard plays a filmmaker who's having some trouble creating his latest work, simply adds to this connection. The plot of Staying Vertical ricochets all over the place, introducing characters who interact with each, often sexually, in ways that might seem crazy in a film by anyone else. But for Guiraudie pansexuality and polysexuality seem the norm, as does sexuality between folk of all ages, young adult to grandpappy.

And, yes, not only are sex organs on full display here (as is often the case with Guiraudie), you can expect to see the male ones engorged. (M. Bonnard, unless a prosthetic was used, is very well endowed.) And yet there is no trace of the snickering, shocked or shameful here. Sex, as usual with this filmmaker, is to be enjoyed, if often at a cost, especially when all the rest of the equation -- need, desire, jealousy, and the lot -- come into play.

The sex here, bizarre as it sometimes may look, is also more grounded and vital than in the other Guiraudie films I've seen. For instance, the first time we see the leading lady's sex, in voluptuous close-up, she is about to be pleasured orally by Bonnard's character. We soon after see a similar shot, but then -- suddenly -- a newborn emerges from that orifice. (India Hair, above, with rifle, plays this woman, and she she brings a very unusual combination of need, anger and strength to the role.)

There's a new wrinkle here, however: the introduction into Guiraudie's work of a baby and what this infant means to its father, mother, and the world at large. What this poor kid goes through may surprise and shock you -- wolf bait, anyone? -- but his appearance and importance to the film adds immeasurably to the humanity that holds this odd and careening movie together.

Unusual sexual couplings (even one of the medical sort, above), the difficulty of commitment, sheep and wolves, and anal sex as an aid to euthanasia -- all this and more are offered up in the filmmaker's look at what may seem to many viewers, TrustMovies included, as some kind of alternate universe. But it is one that we might gainfully learn from. And, oh, did I mention that this film is sometimes very funny, too? (The headline that appears on a newspaper toward the film's finale is as good as anything the National Enquirer has ever given us.)

All of Guiraudie's movies, I think, are political -- remember: he also gave us, back in 2001, that marvelous The Old Dream That Moves (Ce vieux rêve qui bouge) -- and this one is, too. Yet, if you try to pin it down to some single idea or another, it seems to half evaporate. Morality, creativity, religion, autonomy, the self vs the other: the connections are all here, but what they might mean dances deliciously in front of you and remains just out of reach. Yet the movie's hold on you does not let go.

I would not have missed this film for anything. And I'll want to see it again, down the road. But recommending it? Only if you're willing to drop, at least temporarily, your preconceptions and go with Guiraudie's flow. The rewards are spectacular. But they'll probably come to you piecemeal, and over some time, post-viewing.

From Strand Releasing and running 100 minutes, Staying Vertical opens this Friday, January 20, in New York City at the FSLC's Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center, and at the IFC Center. In Los Angeles, you can see it beginning this Friday at Laemmle's Royal, and (at morning screenings only on Saturday and Sunday: think of it as going to temple or church) at the Playhouse 7 in Pasadena. Eventually, it will arrive on DVD and digital, so if you're not on either coast, hold on.

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