Staying Vertical Cannes review: more madness than method

A fine visual style, with strange and beautiful sights, but absurd shifts make this Alain Guiraudie film too jarring

Film Title: Staying Vertical

Director: Alain Guiraudie

Starring: Damien Bonnard, India Hair, Raphaël Thiéry, Christian Bouillette

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 100 min

Thu, May 12, 2016, 11:47

   

Directed by Alain Guiraudie. Starring Damien Bonnard, India Hair, Raphaël Thiéry, Christian Bouillette, Basile Meilleurat. Cannes, in competition, 100 min

Look, Alain. We all sympathise with the pressure you were under to follow-up the deserved arthouse success of Stranger by the Lake, but we can only take so much indulgent, deflected self-flagellation. Alain Guiraudie’s latest film, playing in competition at Cannes, concerns Leo (Damien Bonnard): a confused, expressionless screenwriter travelling about nice-looking bits of rural France. We begin with him attempting to pick up a young man on a quiet laneway. Later, he meets a shepherdess on a hill (India Hair) who – after discussing wolves that you just know will growl in the final scene – takes him home to her hairy tuber of a father. Shepherdess and writer have sex and then… What the heck! Few cuts in recent cinema have been quite so startling. Guiraudie’s camera trains on a woman’s vagina at the moment of birth. It is a measure of how culturally castrated we have become that (to weedy men, anyway) the sequence feels more arresting than any casual outbreak of cartoon violence.

Where were we? Leo becomes attached to his baby son and continues to care for him when the couple split up. He visits a guru in the forest who attaches organic monitors to his chest and offers oblique advice.

It is easy, with a film such as this, to list the escalating absurdities and cast eyes comically to heaven. (After all, we’ve done just that.) But there are certainly arguments being made among the madness. Guiraudie has something to say about the way women are misused in this society. He has something else to say about out disconnection from the land.

Most of all, however, we seem to be ploughing through the director’s own creative stasis. At various points, Leo receives phone calls asking for a script that does not seem to be progressing beyond a first page. Staying Vertical looks like Guiraudie’s attempt to write himself out of a hole. A fine visual stylist, he offers us many strange and beautiful sights. Laughs are generated. Bonnard’s emotional immobility – he is a charmless, charisma-free Buster Keaton – feels like a joke in itself. But the tonal shifts are just too jarring. Moments of apparent naturalism too often give way to a roaring absurdity that would not seem out of place in Carlos Reygadas’s Post Tenebras Lux.

Time to move on, Alain.