La Moustache is an unsettling story of a man who becomes lost inside his own reality.
The film begins simply. A handsome couple is at home in a sleek Paris apartment. The wife goes out to do the shopping and the husband, after some deliberation, decides to shave off his mustache.
It is a significant gesture for him, this removal of a feature he has grown used to. He takes his time, carefully collecting the fragments of hair in a porcelain tray.
Later, Marc (Vincent Lindon) and Agnes (Emmanuelle Devos) have dinner with friends, but Marc is furious and unsettled. Neither his wife nor their friends say a word about his missing mustache. He explodes at Agnes, who is utterly mystified.
It is the first sign in this psychological suspense film from accomplished French novelist and screenwriter Emmanuel Carrére of a seam opening up in the fiction.
Marc, his wife claims, never had a mustache. And other ruptures arise. The friends they had dinner with Agnes claims not to know. Marc is unaware that his father is dead.
A psychiatrist is mentioned and then, when nothing seems resolvable, Marc overhears Agnes with his business partner discussing an asylum and the attendants coming to cart him there.
Like a mix of one of Austrian director Michael Haneke's chillers of contemporary life and the existential despair of Kafka, La Moustache twists and turns and never proves trustworthy or reassures us with a firm footing, a disorientation echoed in Philip Glass's whirlpool score.
Is it Agnes who has orchestrated some cruel plot, or is Marc the most untrustworthy of narrators, a man who undermines our faith in the convention of the seemingly indisputable film hero? Adapted from a novel by first-time director Carrére, the film retains a literary quality in playing with our faith in the conventions of storytelling and in its sly, understated surrealism.
The unease and disturbing qualities of La Moustache arise from both our insecurity as viewers as to what is really going on and our deep, complete identification with Marc, whose disoriented point of view we take.
Marc travels to Hong Kong, as if craving anonymity and a place where his usual reference points are gone. In Hong Kong, there is no one to contradict his version of reality.
Some of the film's most effective, heart-wrenching scenes occur once Marc reaches Hong Kong as he stumbles along in helpless, foggy solitude. His circumstance of being a stranger adrift is both tragic and soothing. The man with the beautiful wife, enviable apartment, confident bearing and generally accomplished life washes away. Even Marc's posture and stride become more vulnerable and unsure. As if seeking some reassurance in routine, Marc rides a ferry across the harbor continuously, lost in a sea of people, engaged in comforting routine -- but still a man apart. Lindon brings genuine pathos to these scenes of utter helplessness, as Marc mixes with the masses of commuters and obviously derives some comfort from the routine, greeting the token-booth attendant, holding seats for female passengers, still connected to humanity -- but still a man apart.
La Moustache alludes to the experience of being homeless, mentally ill or simply a traveler in a strange land where one is terminally out of step. In the Paris scenes, the film suggests in Marc's and Agnes's differing experiences of the world, the sensations of a cataclysmic romantic breakup as if the director were offering in Marc's mustache a metaphor for how a couple who once experienced the world in simpatico could suddenly lose that delicate chemistry and never see eye to eye again.
Far richer than an ordinary mystery plot, La Moustache ponders the existential notion of how much our world is defined in isolation and the lonely, disorienting realization that the reality we engage with daily may be essentially different than everyone else's.
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