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Film review: 'Staying Vertical'


A depressive's version of a black comedy, "Staying Vertical" offers up a fascinatingly ambiguous story with enough shocking moments to make Director Alain Guiraudie's last film, the sex-drenched thriller "Stranger by the Lake," look tame by comparison.

It's the defiantly weird tale of Leo (Damien Bonnard), an aimless screenwriter scouting locations in rural France and suffering from a debilitating case of writer's block. After failing in his attempts to pick up a pretty, young man (BasileMeilleurat) he spots along the side of the road, Leo meets a shepherdess by the name of Marie (India Hair). In short order, the apparently sexually fluid Leo has fathered a child with the woman, only to find himself raising the infant on his own once she abruptly splits the scene.

Meanwhile Leo continues to dodge his producer, convincing him to keep wiring more money and promising his script will be finished any day now (Leo still hasn't written a word). From there, the film spirals off in unexpected directions as Leo comes into contact with a host of unusual characters, including the shepherdess' father (RaphaƫlThiƩry), who attempts to use Leo's baby as wolf bait; a doctor who treats her patients by sticking vines to their bodies; and a dying old man (Christian Bouillette) whom Leo consoles, then ends up having sex with in his final moments. Yeah, this movie is a trip.

With its oddball tone, explicit sex, and one graphic scene of real-life childbirth (shot in unblinking close-up), "Staying Vertical" contains swirling ideas about parenting, companionship, creativity, and the difficulty of making it through life still standing on one's own two feet. The result doesn't always make complete sense, but it makes for a captivating journey.