REVIEW: Staying Vertical

2 06 2017

About the only thing that’s straightforward in Alain Guiraudie’s “Staying Vertical” are shots of gentials. (How’s that for an opening line?) His camera regards them with the remove of an alien coming to study the human body as pure form with a dash of the blasé “so what?” French attitude towards prudish sexual modesty. For both men and women, the space between their legs is just another space, a mass of skin and nerves deserving of the same regard as the head.

But unlike the face, which supposedly signals a character’s psychology, this expanse for men and women is more in line with the overall ambiguity of Guiraudie’s cinema. It’s hard to sum up what exactly “Staying Vertical” is about, and that’s not meant as a jab. Guiraudie dwells in the hazy space of sexual desire and reverie as Léo (Damien Bonnard) beds a French shepherd, impregnates her and ends up taking care of the child after the mother walks out with her previous two children. All the while, he’s desperately trying to finish a screenplay while unable to clear from his mind a striking younger rural boy he spotted on the side of a country road.

When I acted in high school, my drama director had us answer six questions when playing a characters, two of which were, “What do I want?” and “What do I do to get what I want?” Guiraudie seems not to bother with such lines of inquiry, disrupting the causal links between wants and actions. Our desire operates in a different, not always intelligible way, and Guiraudie captures it with a lustful, thirsty gaze that challenges and frustrates traditional notions of character motivations. B+

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