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+

REVIEW: Stranger by the Lake

28 12 2014

Stranger posterStranger by the Lake” is a film for those who love deliberating why a shot was taken from a certain length or held for a certain time. All others need not apply, as it will likely appear as little more than a rarified gay porn film.  Though the displays of sexuality in “Stranger by the Lake” are not extended set pieces like “Blue is the Warmest Color,” director Alain Guiraudie manages to pack more graphic images into their truncated length.

At a lakeside cruising spot, which is apparently France’s best kept secret, Franck develops a puppy love crush on the Adonis-like Michel. This powerful attraction blinds him to Michel’s sketchy behavior, ultimately drawing him into a danger far greater than he had bargained for.  And that’s saying a lot since Franck even makes the ill-advised decision to have unprotected sex with fellow cruisers.

Those who stick with “Stranger by the Lake” will quickly get over the constantly exposed male genitalia, viewing it as merely the proper costume for the location, and experience a top-notch thriller.  Though the cruisers are physically naked, they do not bare their souls and keep plenty of secrets.  While the proceedings begin with the consistency of the lake’s controlled calm, they quickly spiral into an aesthetically masterful tale of intrigue and terror.

Guiraudie directs everything from suspense to sex scenes with a stringent precision that conceals as much as it reveals and suggests as much as it shows.  Those who can get over the sight of a penis will see one heck of a film.  B+3stars