Wednesday, November 6, 2013

FI: La Moustache

La Moustache
France, 2005
Directed and co-written (with Jérôme Beaujour) by Emmanuel Carrère

Imagine a Twilight Zone concept that Rod Serling might have dreamed up on his most creatively-drained day, filter it through the cold, calculating perspective of Claude Chabrol, then add a healthy dose of French existentialism, and you might have something close to La Moustache. This bizarre psychodrama starts in the most innocent of places: As Marc (Vincent Lindon) readies for a party, he asks his wife Agnès (Emmanuelle Devos) if he should shave off the mustache he's sported for most of his life. She demurs, but he shaves it anyway and, expecting a reaction, attempts to play coy. But Agnès one-ups his coyness by not reacting; in fact, she acts as though he's never had a mustache in the first place. The people at the party (including blog favorite Mathieu Amalric) don't notice the change either, though Amalric's character (Agnès's ex) suggests strong-willed Agnès likes stretching psychological games past their breaking point. But is she playing a game? Or is Marc having a breakdown? Is he forgetting years of his life, perhaps burying some kind of trauma? Or is Agnès manipulating him for some unknown reason?

The film's psychological games go beyond the characters. We see Marc shave, in great detail. We see the photographic and documentary proof of his wearing a mustache. From early on, we're made complicit in Marc's perspective, such that its unreliability calls into question everything that we see or hear. In that way, La Moustache takes a tiny event and spirals off from it to a degree that far exceeds what the premise might lead you to believe. Emmanuel Carrère and Jérôme Beaujour's script places us squarely in Marc's potentially fragmented mind, so we share in his distress and distrust of everyone around him. Carrère's direction emphasizes time lapses and ellipses, often focusing on Marc's distraught face or Agnès's enigmatic, mischievous eyes. It's all about creating a sense of suggestion, unease, and impending dread. As far as that goes, the film works.

The major problem with La Moustache is that, for all its mystery and all of its commentary on identity, self-perception, and doubt, it never quite comes together as a film story. Its first two acts are interesting enough, setting the stage for this puzzle and making us wonder which, if any, of the potential solutions is the correct one. But going into a film like this and anticipating a solution is sort of a fool's errand. As if to prove that point, the third act is even harder to pin down. Marc's choices become more cryptic, the script less "real," and it's even more difficult to know what to make of things. I'm not saying it's abstract—there are clues and suggestions about what's happening and why. But by that point I had mostly checked out, which is a shame because there's a lot of good, moody atmosphere and I really wanted to enjoy it more. Lindon and Devos do very well in their roles and earn their characters (and the film) a lot of sympathy, but overall I needed either more meat on the story's bones, or a slightly less fragmented point of view. Without either, La Moustache falls a little flat.

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