Cinema Signal:

Philip Glass:
Concerto for Violin & Orchestra
The sole music used in this film

La Moustache
by Emmanuel Carrere
The book upon which the movie is based
Available in paperback

[Ed. note: because of the unpredictable way accented letters are rendered
in English language browsers, they have been intentionally omitted.]
"La Moustache"

After submerging us into an ominous visual prologue of dark, roiling water, French director Emmanuel Carrere lifts us into the classy, Parisian, bright 3-story home of an attractive, well-off couple, Marc and Agnes Thiriez (Vincent Lindon and Emmanuelle Devos). It's morning and he's shaving, pondering his moustache. Minutes later when he's in the bath and Agnes checks in, he asks what she would think if he shaved his moustache off. Not very enamored of the idea, she trots off to pick up some market items.

While she's gone, Marc does the deed. The moustache comes off and he's a man of handsomely molded looks. She returns and, when she doesn't react to the change he's a bit insulted. What, you do something that major and yuor wife doesn't even make note of it?! Later, that night, when they have dinner with two friends and they, too, ignore his change, he's outright annoyed. When he brings it up to force the issue, all are in agreement that he hasn't worn a moustache for many years.

Feeling dissed, it's all he wants to talk about and it goes to the level of emotional strife for the couple. Trying to keep his cool but still pissed, he launches into an investigation among old photo albums and finds a photo from a vacation trip that shows him with his moustache. Aha. He has evidence. He leaves the album where Agnes will be sure to see it and realize that she's wrong and that he's not going mad.

But, he is, and Carrere's story continues along shifting into and out of two realities, detailing his increasing frenzy as one acquaintance, friend or employee after another gives him no satisfaction. No one says, oh, gee, you've gone and removed your moustache! Finally, faced with a trip to the psychiatric ward, he runs out, and trips instead to Hong Kong where his lapses into and out of reality continue to dog him.

Carrere's mind game of alternating between the world of reality and mental delusion without making a straitforward distinction between them is the engine that drives this stylistic psycho-thriller. While not Hitchcockian in the sense that there's no threat of personal violence afoot, some suspense reminiscent of the master comes out of our ability to be concerned about the dangers of mental deterioration, especially in a man who is essentially kind and decent.

There's also the suspense that arises from trying to figure out the elements of a puzzle that are so realistically well constructed and presented. Discerning whose reality is the right one is enough to keep us in our seats if not on the edge of them. In fact, from the tight, well managed screenplay, to the performances, to the look of the picture by ace-French cinematographer Patrick Blossier, and to the eerie echo of a searching mind suggested by Philip Glass' penetrating mood piece, the "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra."

This piece holds a haunting accessibility in the context of this film, which is powerfully demonstrated as a large chunk of it plays under the end credits. Anyone with a receptive ear for modern classical music will likely remain implanted in their seats to the very last frame so as not to miss a note. Those who do and who may want to look into this masterpiece can do so by clicking here.

It's more than interesting to note how many and what kind of films this composer's work has been applied to. From "The Hours" (opera "Satyagraha" and "Metamorphosis 2") to "Yes" (song "Paru River"), "Clive Barker: raising Hell," and the upcoming "The Illusionist," the moody mind warp tendencies of his music appeals to sci-fi and psychodrama, mystery to mood piece. If the film is far out in any sense, Glass' music is right there to pump it along any dimension of the mind or some galaxy.

Carrere further demonstrates his taste and sense of form in adapting his own novel for his first fiction film. It takes an altogether different approach to mystery than does "Cache'," except for the uncompromising style of sticking to a mystifying theme that challenges logic. These are the best films coming out of France today and, if you liked that one, this should definitely be on your list.

Lindon is solid in his acting out the anger and the loss, the fear of an accomplished man entering a world that separates himself from others, and the desperation to put off his detachment by defying medical norms. Devos, an actress who seems to turn up in every other French film these days, ("The Beat That My Heart Skipped," "Gilles' Wife," "Kings & Queen") is making her mark on our collective consciousnesses as a major actress of our time. Her talent and style have never been better suited to a film, and I go down saying it's her best work to date.

All in all, a strong, unique psychological drama with the tension of a whodunit.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner


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