Just when I think I’ve seen everything on film, along comes “Staying Vertical,” in which a nude sick old man is sent happily to his assisted-suicide death as a nude younger man provides him with explicit sympathetic lovemaking.
Writer-director Alain Guiraudie tries to startle viewers whether the sex is gay or straight. The same leading character who pleasures the departing old gent has explicit sex with the young peasant woman whom he has encountered while he’s hiking and she’s herding sheep. As far as we can see, the sheep remain virginal.
Guiraudie (“Stranger by the Lake) has the ability to mount scenes that capture our attention, although often in off-putting ways. Visually, he concentrates here on auto traveling on long country roads to pinpoint the rural ambience. He gradually introduces his main and supporting characters, none of whom rise to the level of interesting.
The protagonist is Léo, played without oomph by Damien Bonnard. He is supposed to be a screenwriter, but has writer’s block. His advances will stop until he delivers, which isn’t very likely. While on the road he sees an attractive young man, Yoan (Basile Meilleurat), who rejects his come-on suggestion that he audition for a film career. The obvious sexual interest sparked in Léo indicates his homosexual side.
But subsequently, when he and Maria, the shepherd woman glumly played by India Hair, mate, the bi part of Léo emerges and they stay together for a while. (Maria’s lumbering father (Raphaël Thiéry) has his own sexual designs on Léo.) Maria gives birth and Léo becomes smitten with his son. Maria’s interest in motherhood temporarily wanes, as does Léo’s interest in her, and Léo goes off clutching the baby he wants to care for without any means of doing so.
The film rambles along without any special impact as Léo endures increasing difficulties. Time passes (he grows a beard) and the kid gets a bit bigger. Léo shows increasing pity for the ailing elderly gay recluse, played by Christian Bouillette, who is being milked for money by Yoan.
Ultimately Léo moves in with Maria’s father to help protect the sheep from the roaming wolves, and with whatever else he needs. The film ends inconclusively with a dangerous visually striking confrontation, but still without any emotional kick. A Strand Releasing release. Reviewed January 20, 2017.