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With: Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Hippolyte Girardot, Cylia Malki Macha Polikarpova, Fantine Camu
Written by: Emmanuel Carrère and Jérôme Beaujour, based on a novel by Carrère
Directed by: Emmanuel Carrère
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: French with English subtitles
Running Time: 86
Date: 05/15/2005
IMDB

La Moustache (2006)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Lip Service

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A man wears a moustache every day of his adult life. One day he decides to shave it off and no one notices. In fact, his wife and his friends go so far as to inform him that they've never actually seen him with a moustache.

So begins Emmanuel Carrère's new film La Moustache, which could be labeled an "existential dilemma." It opens today at the Lumiere in San Francisco and at the Shattuck in Berkeley.

For the first third, Marc Thiriez (Vincent Lindon, from The School of Flesh and Friday Night) goes around fussing. He refuses to actually tell anyone that he's shaved his moustache, and he instead waits for people to acknowledge it, which they don't. He's like a petulant teenage girl whose new highlights have gone unnoticed.

Of course, Marc has some photographs proving that he once had a moustache, and he digs them out. But they lay around on his nightstand for a night or two and then they just disappear. He never shows them to anyone, nor are they recovered. Not much of a Hitchcockian device.

So what does Marc do? He fights with his wife, Agnes (Emmanuelle Devos, from Read My Lips and Kings and Queen) and wakes up to find that she's called the men in the white coats. He jumps on a plane to Hong Kong, where he rides the ferry back and forth for several precious minutes of screen time.

He eventually gets off the ferry and that's when things get really weird. What does it all mean? Well, we can infer that "existential" has something to do with existence and that Marc is trying to re-affirm his own.

La Moustache gives no other clues for or against, which is actually rather refreshing. For example, if Marc had actually shown the photographs to anyone, one of two things would have happened. If people had failed to see the moustache in the photos, that would suggest something supernatural at work, which simply would have undone all the movie's work. Or if people had seen the moustache, it would render the entire film moot.

But it brings up a bigger question as to whether this type of storytelling works in a cinematic context. In a novel, the author has the luxury of a first-person narration, in which everything the reader sees filters through the eyes of the untrustworthy hero. (Incidentally, the writer/director Emmanuel Carrère based the film on his own novel, but whether it is written in the first person I cannot say.)

A film, however, presents everything in a more realistic context, and so the filmmaker must come up with various visual schemes to establish the rules. Carrère does that very well, specifically by giving Marc a clownish green jacket and endowing it with significance.

But as intelligently as Carrère handles this material, giving it just the right hint of distance and ambiguity, La Moustache tends to drift toward the mechanisms of the thriller. Once convinced that his life has taken a strange turn, the camera follows Marc at just such a distance that we wait for him to solve his personal mystery.

Lovers of cinematic thrillers will find little thrilling about La Moustache, in which this mystery is never really solved.

Though it calls to mind Hitchcock, film could have used a dose of Orson Welles and the dreamlike pacing he brought to his Franz Kafka adaptation, The Trial (1962). Welles' film is a much more effective depiction of an unfounded, personal persecution, wrapped up in an astonishing dream-rhythm in which one moment does not necessarily lead to the next and any thread may be abandoned at any moment.

La Moustache has that kind of rhythm built into its structure, but since Carrère opts for a more objective, realistic approach, the audience winds up lagging behind instead of sharing in the disorientation.

The major lesson, I suppose, is: don't make a big deal about shaving your moustache. You can always grow it back.

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