Overview: A filmmaker seeks inspiration while raising a child. Les Films du Losange; 2016; 100 Minutes.
Rocky Start: Rester Vertical (Staying Vertical) begins as dreadfully boorish, before mutating into a hilarious absurdist comedy rich with symbolism and subtext. Alain Guiraudie presents a world in which relationship boundaries and definitions are blurred. The central father-son relationship offers an unpredictable, insane romp headfirst into some of the most unfathomable corners of cinema. This is the kind of film that divides audiences. To call it risqué cinema is to undersell the effort. It is bold, confident filmmaking that will either prove immensely rewarding or frustratingly confusing.
The film begins with protagonist Léo (Damien Bonnar) searching for inspiration for his next script, escaping from his responsibilities by disappearing through the brush and into a large plain. In one fell swoop, we are quickly introduced to the only five other characters who really matter: An old man and his young, attractive caretaker: free-spirited Marie (India Hair) and her father. Marie, after a spontaneous encounter almost wholly absent of romance, produces a child. From this group of six, we are given three father-child relationships, as well as an orgy of alternate general and sexual relationships.
Rebirth: Guiraudie’s reputation for the lewd thrives in Rester Vertical, and yet this particular filmmaking effort oozes intimacy. A two minute long live birthing sequence, shown in all of its messy detail, marks the transition into the surreal. The movie, in an only slightly figurative sense, gives itself a rebirth. From there, relationships are entirely transmuted and communication becomes confused.
Nudity and sex are approached by Guiraudie in an aloof manner, the carnal condition connected to everything else, emphasized as a vital, biological fact of life. The authorial imagination runs wild with some of the sequences in the film, yielding some truly unforgettable images, including an assisted suicide set to Pink Floyd and a short fairytale interlude in which Léo’s agent, seeking a new script, tracks him down to a mysterious shaman tree in the rainforest (The whole aesthetic immediately recalls Achiatpong Weeraseethakul, which is just a fantastic imaginative leap of memory to make here.) This discovery eventually transforms the fairytale into a nightmare, another instance of transformative themes continually echoing. The end result is a goldmine of scenes from which it is impossible to look away and likely just as impossible to forget.
Overall: Even by the most modern and progressive contemporary definition of the term, Guiraudie, with Rester Vertical, completely defies the threshold of “cinema.”