The largely aimless countryside jaunt that is Staying Vertical is saved from the scrapheap purely because of its intoxicating absurdism. It takes itself seriously and no one in the film laughs, but I would classify it as a comedy of life in the way it presents us with a man who can’t seem to do anything right. First he seduces a shepherdess and impregnates her, but she quickly develops postpartum depression and forces him to look after the baby on his own. Cradling the infant, the man goes from one place to the next, seeking a stable way of life but finding that most people he meets want to bed him… including his child’s own grandfather. All the while he is being pressed to turn over a screenplay to his mysterious client, and he tries time and again to delay the deadline because (surprise, surprise) he hasn’t written a single word of it.
Damien Bonnard, our lead actor, isn’t especially sexy in the conventional sense, and I think his subtler brand of sex appeal works for this framework, as everyone’s horniness here seems to stem from raging libidos that need to be pacified. So they’ll take what they can get. That’s kind of emphasized by the presence of a young twink who is tossed about from one person to the next because he is the only other alternative to Bonnard’s itinerant protagonist. Guiraudie is also preoccupied with keeping the sexual channels fluid, so that as long as a character has genitals, they’re fair game for the lustful hunt. The labels of sexual orientation are no longer needed in Guiraudie’s world—it’s just not fully utopian because everyone here is fucked up in some way. C’est la vie.
I won’t lie: parts of this can be a slog to sit through, since the plot wanders as much as the man it follows. Guiraudie strategically positions a few select scenes to jolt us to attention, but nothing really interesting happens until after the first hour. It’s then the absurdist elements start to pay off. Still, I’m not going to dismiss this outright because it reaches some strange heights that will leave you thinking about it for some time.