movies about writers

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) – “Man from Reno”

indexMan from Reno (2015; Dir.: Dave Boyle)

GRADE: B-

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens today at the Sundance Kabuki in San Francisco.

 This subdued, almost ephemeral bilingual murder mystery seems designed more for fans of detective fiction than for film noir nuts, but it still possesses a sly potency. Director Dave Boyle unfolds his story (from an original script by Boyle, Joel Clark, and Michael Lerman) slowly and carefully, building the worlds of seemingly unrelated characters in a novel-like fashion, until they collide in ways both obvious and unexpected. A mercurial Japanese crime novelist and widow (Ayako Fujitani, very good) hiding out in San Francisco has sex with a mysterious stranger, but he goes missing the next day, leaving behind only a suitcase and a toilet full of turtles. Outside of The City, a sleepy, small-town sheriff and widower (Pepe Serna) discovers a dead body, and his investigation leads him to the writer, and to a faceless suspect prone to stealing identities (assimilation: the silent killer). Man from Reno never entirely grabbed me, but the acting is solid and the filmmaking is quietly effective, and that ending stays with you.