A young man about whom we know little other than his name — Leo — arrives in a pretty French village, where, with little finesse and less success, he propositions a muscled sulk of a teenage boy (Basile Meilluerat). Leo, who’s played by Damien Bonnard with a kind of predatory befuddlement, has better luck with Marie (India Hair), a shepherdess who calmly takes the sexual initiative. Their son is born nine months later, and Marie, apparently suffering from postpartum depression and angry at her partner’s frequent departures to a nearby harbor town, decamps with her two older boys, leaving Leo with the baby he loves but has no idea how to care for.
If you’ve seen Alain Guiraudie’s brutally beautiful 2013 gay reverie, Stranger by the Lake (L’inconnu du lac), you’ll know not to expect a heartwarming tale of heroic single-parenthood from his new film, Staying Vertical (Rester vertical). And if you’re new to his work, look for multiple layers of storytelling that go way beyond realism and the mostly buried commentary on gender, feminism, and the destruction of an ancient way of rural life. Staying Vertical propels us on a careening ride from eros to thanatos, the creative/destructive urges that lurk beneath a slim veneer of civilization. Truth to tell, civilization is notably absent in this apparent pastoral idyll, which plays host to visceral excursions into polymorphous sexuality you can read as provocation, or candor, or both; either way I lost count of who makes what kind of sexual overtures to whom as Leo makes the village rounds, babe cradled ludicrously in arms.