Alain Guiraudie’s much-anticipated follow-up to his critical hit Stranger by the Lake (2013) is at once a departure and a return. Eschewing that film’s daunting formal precision and familiar equation of sex and death, Staying Vertical more closely resembles the films that preceded his cruising-thriller breakout, such as That Old DreamThat Moves (2001) and The King of Escape (2009). The new film is delightfully adventurous and boldly unafraid to conflate the personal with the cosmic, the auto-biographical with the biblical.
Guiraudie’s on-screen surrogate, a filmmaker named Léo (Damien Bonnard), is creatively blocked and late to deliver the script for his next film. While driving around the south of France in search of inspiration, he meets cute with a shepherdess (the excellently named India Hair). They quickly pop out a baby, and soon enough single-fatherhood becomes our protagonist’s lot—as do an unexpected sexual overture at gunpoint, a positively far-out euthanasia scene accompanied by blaring prog rock, and visits to an otherworldly riverside healer/therapist/lover.
The pacing and mise en scène of Staying Vertical are as deliberate as the events of its plot are hallucinatory, yielding a marriage of exacting form and content that encompasses the mundane and the fantastic in equal measure. As a stream of reflections on life, death, and desire put on screen, it’s an exhilarating thing to behold.