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La Moustache

How we look often determines how we feel. For a young man named Marc, the simple act of shaving his moustache turns his life upside down in the new French film

La Moustache

(opening November 17 for a limited run at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas).

Marc and his wife Agnes are getting ready to go to dinner at another couples home.

Marc: "What do you think if I shaved my moustache?"

La Moustache

As Marc looks in the mirror, he casually asks his wife what she would think if he shaved his moustache? Agnes looks at the thick hair on her husbands upper lip and concludes I like you with it. I dont know you without it. On a whim, Marc snips away at the moustache and then shaves it off completely. When he boldly reveals his deed, he expects a big response, but his wife says nothing. When they arrive at their friends home; again no one notices the change in Marcs appearance. Their refusal to acknowledge such an obvious change infuriates Marc. When he finally confronts his wife, shes baffled by his anger.

Agnes: "What are you talking about?"

Marc: "My moustache."

With seeming sincerity and dismay she denies knowing what Marcs referring to. This enrages him even further and he accuses her of conspiring with their friends to play some cruel practical joke.

Agnes: "Why? Why would I do that? Give me the telephone."

When she calls their friends, they not only deny involvement in any conspiracy but they insist that Marc has never had a moustache. Now Marc begins to doubt his senses. He digs up some old photos that clearly show his moustache, but still no one notices.

He rummages through the garbage and presents the trimmed hairs to his now terrified wife who thinks her husband has gone mad. And maybe he has as more than his moustache comes into question. He can no longer recall where his parents live and his wife cant remember the friends they've just visited.

Is he losing his mind? Is his wife the crazy one? Or has there been a shift in the fabric of the universe? Filmmaker Emmanuel Carrere, adapting from his own novel, doesnt really offer a clear answer. Even with all the details revealed here, there's still more to discover in this provocative film. Carrere revels in posing unsettling questions and serving up casual contradictions that he refuses to resolve, and that means everything's wide open to interpretation.

As with the recent French films Lemming and The Bridesmaid, La Moustache generates a high level of tension with the most mundane things. All three films create the kind of suspense, discomfort and unease usually associated with thrillers yet their stories are not made up of such genre material. The films also serve up white characters that live comfortable, fairly insulated lives. And judging from the social unrest that keeps bubbling up in France, maybe these filmmakers are tapping into an undercurrent of tension in their homeland. Carrere then intensifies the unnerving mood with his foreboding use of Philip Glass violin concerto.

The spooky way events unfold also recall the paranoid anxiety of Roman Polanskis The Tenant . The terror suggested by that film and by La Moustache is of ones identity suddenly starting to unravel; that the once solid ground you were standing on has turned to quicksand. At one point Marc goes up to a total stranger and asks her if she notices what the difference is between his drivers license photo and his current appearance.

CLIP Marc: "Do you notice a difference?"

Woman: "Yes, absolutely. The moustache."

When she says yes, a sense of relief that passes over Marcs face. But rather than resolve his conundrum, it only deepens it. And thats whats fun for viewers. Everyone can come away with a different interpretation. I found insight in a postcard Marc writes to Agnes in which he says, I need your eyes to see. So maybe the film's about how we see ourselves through others. If Agnes cannot verify what Marc perceives as reality, then thats enough to make his whole world crumble. But the person next to me might disputemy conclusion and find a comepletely different key to unlocking the film's meaning.

So if you require tidy resolutions or if loose ends make you crazy, then La Moustache is not the film for you. But if you like to ponder possibilities, then this cinematic French puzzle is a delicious treat.

Companion viewing: Lemming, The Bridesmaid, The Tenant, Read My Lips, Chaos

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