Staying Vertical (2016) Review

A French New Wave movie for the 21st century…

by Martin Hafer

In the 1960s, many French movies were dubbed ‘New Wave’ because they were so unusual and violated the accepted rules of stories and filmmaking. Characters and plots no longer had to make sense, happy endings and other clichés were abandoned and many of these films were very confusing to many in the audience. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they certainly were unique. Not surprisingly, however, over the years the French film industry and their films evolved and the years of deliberately breaking the rules of the New Wave filmmakers slowly disappeared and became more mainstream.

In many ways, Staying Vertical is a modern take on the old French New Wave. Like the New Wave, much that the main character does makes little sense, there does not appear to be much context for what occurs and the film itself seems to deliberately avoid having any sort of meaning or coherence. Add to that a very modern sense of sexuality and sexual freedom you don’t have in the older New Wave films and you essentially have Staying Vertical.

Staying Vertical
Directed by Alain Guiraudie
Cast Damien Bonnard, India Hair, Raphaël Thiéry
Release Date April 2017
Martin's Grade: D+

The story is revolves around Leo. You really know nothing about Leo other than he exists. He keeps making phone calls begging for money and he keeps pursuing a handsome young man while at the same time taking up with a shepherdess with two kids of her own…and, not surprisingly, she soon has Leo’s baby. Oddly, despite all this, Leo never once smiles or emotes or shows any connection to anyone…and not surprisingly she soon abandons Leo. What is surprising is that she’s left their colicky baby with him. Through the rest of the film, Leo takes the baby in tow on a wide variety of odd adventures that culminate in Leo making the newspapers…and for something that sounds very sick when you read the paper’s headlines.

I must warn you, this film is incredibly explicit and could easily offend. While it’s never exactly clear whether Leo is bisexual or is a gay man using the Sheperdess, you have some incredibly surprising scenes. You see close ups of genitalia and erections as well as a super-bizarre sex scene involving Leo and a dying old man. It is certainly not a film for the easily offended and shows an extreme range of sexuality. You also get to see close ups of a baby being born---and it’s no stunt baby or model!

So is all this worth seeing? Well, for me, no…but if you love the French New Wave you might be able to find something in the picture worth seeing. I kept hoping my questions would be answered and some coherence would result…sometimes it did, but more often it didn’t. But worse than the lack of meaning and strangeness, I hated the lack of emotion throughout the film. Apart from one very, very brief outburst by Leo late in the film, Leo simply exists and shows zero emotion…and it’s the same with the rest of the characters. All of them are people existing…going through the motions of life but not living. Overall, it’s a very difficult and confusing film and perhaps one that might be better to be watched and discussed with friends instead of seeing it alone. As for me, I adore French movies but cannot wholeheartedly recommend this one.


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