2006Director: Emmanuel Carrère
Cast: Emmanuelle Devos, Vincent Lindon
he story is simple: A man shaves his moustache. When nobody notices, he angrily confronts those closest to him. They deny he ever had facial hair, and the man unhappily begins to question reality. Using conflicting visuals and narratives, La Moustache proves that one cannot necessarily believe one’s eyes. If you’ve never seen such a movie, then this amusing premise may be entertainment enough. However, even A Beautiful Mind held such lofty ambitions. La Moustache, fortunately, offers something more than a playful romp with the illusory power of the camera.
Titular hair excepted, the primary focus of the film lies in a romantic relationship. In the opening scene, the beautiful Agnès (Emmanuelle Devos) admires Marc (Vincent Lindon), informing him that she cannot imagine him without his treasured moustache. But when Marc shaves, apparently eager to shatter the status quo, Agnès merely sighs and lovingly caresses her husband’s face. After a car-ride of dropped hints, the couple arrives at a party, where nobody acknowledges Marc’s clean-shaven face. Even when Marc suspects that Agnès may be playing an elaborate practical joke, his co-workers ignore his new appearance. Paranoia ensues, the Philip Glass score begins to uneasily pulse, and Marc and Agnès devolve into tense distrust.
Although director Emmanuel Carrère certainly toys with his audience (the opening credit sequence appears to be lifted from a scene two-thirds of the way through the film; make of that what you will), he avoids pussyfooting around the question of Marc’s sanity. La Moustache, with minimal time wasted, declares the man crazy. Although the audience witnesses Marc’s delusions firsthand, the film suggests that Marc may be aware of the truth. When the man finds a collection of old photographs, moustache displayed in full glory, he reacts with an ambiguous whimper, not triumph. Later, Marc spends hours digging through the trash to find his razor clippings rather than simply pointing Agnès to the photographic proof. When reality sets on too strong, an attractive blonde appears from nowhere, flirts with Marc, and subsequently assures him that the moustache exists.
If Marc’s illusions are really this shallow, then what are the motivations behind his behavior? The increasingly barmy Agnès represents the schizophrenic figurehead of Marc’s shifting universe. She first promises to stand by her man through turmoil, and then spurns long-term attachment of any kind. In order to cure Marc’s deepening depression, Agnès takes him shopping. Ever passive-aggressive, she purchases him a suit he hates, and then assures him that their disagreement reflects what every couple “should be.” As Marc spirals further into disorientation, Agnès becomes less and less of a cohesive character. Granted, Marc probably perceives his wife through mists of hallucination, but that doesn’t make her refusal of dessert (“I’m worried the meringues might end up tasting like beans,” she intones) any less creepy. Marc’s original intention while shaving was to become a person Agnès does not know. Ironically, Agnès becomes the intangible personality, whereas Marc resembles the same man he’s been throughout the years (excluding, of course, his descent into madness, which is fairly easy to identify with).
After a confluence of straitjackets, pills, and expressionistically pounding rain, our protagonist abruptly flees France for Hong Kong and Macao. The conspiratorial tone of the first half of the film, where characters are constantly revealed as imaginary or long dead, vanishes. Instead, Marc drifts aimlessly through crowds, peacefully living on a superfluous level of society. Rather than navigating a complex web of relationships, Marc need only nod at the kind old lady who gives him his daily ferry ticket. What these scenes lack in narrative propulsion, they more than make up for in the sense of respite for our poor, tortured protagonist. I wouldn’t necessarily endorse these scenes as atmospheric works of genius, but they do work. Indeed, the calm comes before the storm, and the final few moments utterly shatter the tenuous chronology and implications of La Moustache without becoming a wrap-it-up twist of loathsome Shyamalan proportions.
La Moustache exists in the frustrating realm of madness, where nothing is ultimately provable. The superb performances by Emmanuelle Devos and Vincent Lindon ground the film, even when their characters seem discontinuous from scene to scene. In Agnès’ hurt expression as Marc inexplicably lashes out, Carrère captures the indefinable space between two people. As far as depictions of profound misunderstanding go, La Moustache succeeds, deftly balancing dreary existential solitude with witty insanity.
La Moustache is playing in theatres in New York City.