La Moustache

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 01/17/07 20:46:28

"Silly premise, solid drama."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

A man shaves off the moustache he’s had for years. No one notices. He complains. His wife tells him he never had a moustache. Is he crazy, or is his wife out to drive him that way?

On the surface, “La Moustache” sounds like a parody of a psychological thriller and not the real deal - after all, it’s pretty difficult to take anything seriously when a key line of dialogue is “You really believe you had a moustache?” Even the title comes across as ridiculous. Let’s face it: moustaches are funny, and they’re funnier in French, right?

But watch what director/co-writer Emmanuel Carrère (who, with Jérôme Beaujour, adapted the film from Carrère’s own novel) does with the material, turning the whole thing into a nightmarish thriller. There’s a methodical chill in how Carrère presents the internal downfall of this Average Jacques, presenting far more questions than answers. At first, the whole thing looks like an ordinary drama - schlub goes unnoticed by friends and family. Then he cracks, yelling about a moustache he’s apparently never had. A tale of madness? Perhaps not: soon he stumbles upon proof, and then more proof, and then confirmation, that perhaps no, he is not insane at all.

Most of these revelations come in between the lines. The script does not mention what the man is thinking, yet it seeps through: “I am insane;” “She is tricking me;” etc. As the film continues and the man withdraws from the world, the dialogue decreases, until by the final act, it’s pretty much a silent movie, as we watch him disappear into his own private universe. The film takes a strange turn away from standard thriller material in its final half hour; the move, off-putting at first as we struggle to see where Carrère is going with all this, eventually reveals itself to be the makings of hypnotic confusion. The man spends days traveling back and forth on a ferry. Why? Is he desperate to literally “find himself?” Is he losing himself to madness? The film never answers. And then it asks more questions, and more still, until we are buried under unknowns.

With so many questions, does the story resolve itself? In a way, it certainly does, or maybe not. There are turns, but they are not exactly surprise twists; there are plot moves, but they are not exactly what is expected. The ending is completely satisfying, if not in the traditional sense of having all the questions answered and all the loose ends tied. It is an ending that lingers in the mind far more than a simpler finale ever could. It’s intentionally maddening and will certainly frustrate many viewers, but looking back, I can’t imagine the film working out any other way while still retaining its impact.

Playing the man is Vincent Lindon, whose hangdog face is perfect for such a role. With baggy eyes and perennial frown, he comes from the William H. Macy school of sadsacks, the fragile sort who could snap over such a minor thing as a moustache. His wife is Emmanuelle Devos, who delivers a both cold and warmth - her performance is layered so that we can read what we wish in every scene, then go back and read something completely different later.

It’s a movie full of layers, as Carrère packs the screen with images of mirrors and photographs as tightly as he packs the soundtrack with Philip Glass’ overwhelming “Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.” Sometimes Carrère goes off the mark (usually in his overuse of Glass’ music, which pounds away to distracting effect in several sequences), but even then his film remains a dizzying experiment, evocative and frustrating at the same time.

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