LA MOUSTACHE (France / 2005)
*A 2006 U.S. Release*
Lets face it, only the French could genuinely attempt an existential parable which deals with the notions of identity and marriage from a question concerning a small amount of facial hair -- and, for the most part, make it work. Which is what writer-director Emmanuel Carrre has accomplished in his fiction debut La Moustache, adapted from his own 1986 novel of the same name.
"How would you feel if I shaved off my mustache?" is the question nonchalantly posed early on in the film by a middle-aged man to his beautiful wife, who responds in a similar fashion before running off to do some errands. A prosperous couple, Marc and Agns (wonderfully played by Vincent London and Emmanuelle Devos, respectively) are preparing to leave for a party at their mutual friend's. Marc does the deed, and then waits for Agnss reaction, which turns out to be nothing. Despite doing everything he can to draw some attention to his upper lip, the same holds true at the dinner later on that evening. Marc is perplexed. At first, he considers that perhaps everyones engaged in an elaborate joke at his expense, but after confronting his wife in the car on the way back, he learns that he never had a mustache.
Carrre, whose other similarly-themed novels have been adapted recently in the likes of Class Trip (1998) and The Adversary (2002), handles these events in an economical fashion, thus generating a surprising amount of interest from the trivial, nearly silly initial premise. And once he stops justifying the film's narrative conundrums, and situates his self-doubting protagonist in Hong Kong, he allows it to become an unnerving emotional experience as well. As Marcs life crumbles, so does his psychological state. But instead of providing easy answers, the film continues to blur the line between reality and what might possibly be a dream -- and strives toward an understanding of the metaphysical uncertainty of modern life and its false sense of control. And during this process, it manages to keep a straight face, which just might be its biggest accomplishment.
*LA MOUSTACHE premiered at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight).
*Now available on DVD in the U.S. (Koch Lorber). Interviews and a making-of-doc are provided as extra features.