Cannes Day 3: Five weird things about ‘Staying Vertical’

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The main characters of "Staying Vertical," which is competing for the Palme d'Or in Cannes.
The main characters of "Staying Vertical," which is competing for the Palme d'Or in Cannes.

The main characters of “Staying Vertical,” which is competing for the Palme d’Or in Cannes.

The Cannes Film Festival has always been known for its weirdness — and its celebration of offbeat European directors. In 2013, it screened French director Alain Guiraudie’s “Stranger by the Lake” in Un Certain Regard. The film dealt with a romance between a young gay man and a gay serial killer who was stalking people at a lake. The young gay man witnessed the first murder, but he was still attracted to the killer, and a relationship developed, doomed as it was.

This year, the same director is back with “Staying Vertical,” which is in the prestigious competition for the Palme d’Or.

Here are four weird things about the film:

  1. See the image with this post? The guy on the left, Damian Bonnard, plays Leo, a wandering screenwriter who comes upon a shepherdess on a French prairie.  She’s the one in the middle. They immediately start making out as the lambs watch, all the while debating whether wolves are good or bad. They end up in bed, and before you know it, you’re watching a graphic live birth of their baby, with a closeup of the child’s emergence from the womb.
  2. The same Leo keeps making passes at a young man along the road to the home where he’s staying with the mother of his newborn. The young man thinks Leo is a creep, but it’s clear that the young man is gay and is helping out a very old guy who lives in a ramshackle home. The very old guy plays Pink Floyd loudly, all the time. And the old man hurls venom at his helper.
  3. The same Leo appears to think it’s personally reasonable for the grandfather of his newborn to be making sexual advances toward him. That’s the grandfather on the right in the above photo. And, of course, it’s clear that the director is defying gender identifications and sexual assumptions, since the guy on the right isn’t exactly a looker. Leo declines the offer of sex, because he doesn’t think it’s proper to have sex with his child’s grandfather. Um, okay.
  4. The same Leo strikes up a friendship with the Pink Floyd-playing old man. And the old man wants to commit suicide, with Leo’s help. But it’s a weird request, because the old man wants to be having anal intercourse during his death, with Leo’s help. Leo decides that’s fine, and the “assisted suicide” is a success, if you want to call it that.
  5. Shortly thereafter, Leo decides it’s a good idea to make peace with the wolves who are attacking the lambs. So he carries his baby out to the prairie and waits for the wolves. They show up, and as long as he remains vertical, he thinks he’ll safe, since wolves respect anyone standing tall, he has been told. So there you are with a Mexican standoff with the wolves. If you’re a fan of Lars von Trier, you half-expect the wolves to start talking, saying such things as “Chaos reigns!” But alas, these wolves don’t talk. All of this is leading up to a point I think should probably be made. I suspect Austin audiences will be able to view this unusual film at Fantastic Fest, courtesy of co-founder Tim League. We’ll see.

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