Month: March 2017

IN THEATERS (SF) – “Staying Vertical”

rsz_staying-vertical-cannes-film-festivalStaying Vertical (2017; Dir.: Alain Guiraudie)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, March 3, at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco.

Alain Guiraudie’s self-contained, cryptic, borderline pornographic, Hitchcock-goes-homoerotic Stranger by the Lake was a jaw-dropping breakthrough in 2013/2014, but it was actually the sixth feature film for the 52 year-old French writer-director.  Staying Vertical is his highly anticipated follow-up (it premiered last summer at Cannes), and anyone bothered by the elliptical nature of Stranger by the Lake will be driven mad by this strange and inscrutable squirm.  A fractured and scowling narrative that alternates pitiless darkness with the elements of a rollicking comedy, Staying Vertical follows Léo (Damien Bonnard), a drifting screenwriter dodging his obligations in the French countryside.  Léo shacks up with and impregnates a sheep-herding single mother, but when he can’t commit to a life together, she abandons him with the baby and her disturbed father.  Guiraudie frequently abandons the audience in the story – we drift in and out of the narrative just as Léo drifts in and out of people’s lives – but for all of the film’s self-infatuated drifting, it also offers no shortage of deeply disturbing show-stopper sequences, peaking with a scene in which Léo tenderly sodomizes an old man to death while prog rock blasts in the background.  That’s not something you simply watch and forget.

IN THEATERS (SF) – “My Life as a Zucchini”

rsz_courgette31My Life as a Zucchini (2017; Dir.: Claude Barras)

GRADE: B

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday, March 3, at the Landmark Opera Plaza in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley.

Spoiler alert: this film is not about a little boy who transforms into a zucchini.  That goofball title and the Pop Art-meets-Cubist character designs do nothing to prepare you for this relatively realistic and fairly dark portrait of abused and abandoned children.  Director and co-writer Barras adapts a 2002 novel from French writer Gilles Paris into a stop-motion animated coming-of-age dramedy.  It’s an interesting choice of format for the adaptation, given the subject matter – a boy accidentally kills his alcoholic mother and gets sent to a rural orphanage, where he feuds and bonds with his damaged housemates, and is frequently visited by a kindly policeman – and the movie possesses a naturalistic tone, style, sound and pace quite unlike anything else in the current world of animated film.  But that sore thumb status doesn’t always work in the film’s favor – as much as My Life as a Zucchini is French-in-a-good-way (intelligent, searching, free from repression), it’s also pretty French-in-a-bad-way (formless, meandering, pitiless yet sentimental).  Animation aficionados need to ingest this thing post haste; all others, tread lightly.