In Staying Vertical, as in nearly all of French filmmaker Alain Guiraudie's tonically unorthodox work, the emphasis is on the abundant possibility of pairings and practices when people get horizontal. As the film opens, Léo (Damien Bonnard) gets coolly rebuffed by Yoan (Basile Meilleurat), who lives, as we later learn, with the ancient Marcel (Christian Bouillette) as the geezer's vaguely defined caretaker and likely catamite.
Rejection doesn't sting for long in Guiraudie's erotically elastic scenarios. Hiking through the hills, with the brutal pastoral beauty of Southern France accentuated by the widescreen compositions, Léo spots Marie (India Hair), a flinty shepherdess who lectures him on the constant dangers posed by wolves. All the lupine talk serves as turn-on: In an abrupt and funny extreme close-up, Marie's hand is soon on Léo's dungareed crotch. Just as quickly and unceremoniously, he becomes one of the ménage, settling in to the farmhouse that Marie shares with her towheaded boys and ogreish father, Jean-Louis (Raphaël Thiéry), who suggests the unfortunate son of John C. Reilly and André the Giant.
The couple's bedroom scenes often begin with a screen-filling shot of Marie's vulva. Those adoringly, classically framed genitals, however, soon resemble a gruesome crime scene: Footage of a newborn being pushed out of its mother's vagina spares no blood, excreta or goo.
As always, Guiraudie shrewdly (and often hilariously) captures both the seriousness and the absurdity of sex, but a late proposition seems almost de rigueur for the director. But my fear that Guiraudie was beginning to rely too heavily on the same propriety-pushing situations was quelled by Staying Vertical's knockout ending -- one that imagines a different, almost certainly doomed, communion between two different species.