(Alain Guiraudie, 2016)
Staying Vertical screens at the AMC River East 21 on Wednesday, October 26 at 5:45PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
Alain Guiraudie’s hazy half-daydream, half-waking nightmare will surely frustrate less discerning viewers, possessing a sort of bored mask of attitude toward its increasingly preposterous surrealism. Guiraudie remains one of world cinema’s most effective provocateurs, generating discomfort from the most furtive of gestures, though Staying Vertical’s by-design creative aimlessness and narrative tangents proved to be more of an endurance test than I imagined.
Staying Vertical concerns itself with the difficulties of the creative process, extending its metaphor to the context of the narrative itself, whereby a screenwriter named Léo (Damien Bonnard) cruises about the French countryside in search for inspiration. Anfractuous and fragmented, Guiraudie steers Léo from rejection by a young local man to the arms of a shepherdess named Marie (India Hair), where he shacks up on her family farm. The courtship between the two is quick and to the point, resulting in a child. But before the narrative and its characters settle into roles of domesticity, Guiraudie complicates their relationship, prompting Marie to abandon Léo and their newborn. The news is startling, especially since the narrative only subtly suggests the reason for Marie’s departure: is it her awareness of Léo’s homosexuality? Or the fact that she has been anchored to the farm that she has tried so consciously to leave behind? The abruptness of Guiraudie’s scripting and editing occludes any measure of conventional logic, which in itself is rather refreshing in design.
However, Guiraudie’s peculiarities are still defined by ideas and concepts that, inherently, are based in cliché. Staying Vertical keeps the totem of his narrative in place – the sexually confused male confronted with writer’s block and parenthood -even as the orbiting material becomes increasingly bizarre. It’s not an especially compelling narrative – I’m getting really tired of “paternal anxieties” as a recurring theme in contemporary cinema – and Guiraudie’s attempts to complicate the cliché by steeping his surrealist content through a realist lens are not quite as adventurous as it seems.