“Marc (Vincent Lindon) has worn a mustache all his adult life. One day on a whim, he decides to shave it off. Certain his wife will comment on the drastic change in his appearance, Marc is baffled when neither she nor friends notice at all. Even more disturbing is that once he calls attention to it, everyone insists he has never had a mustache.”
So reads the descriptive blurb Netflix provides for Emmanuel Carrère’s La Moustache, and rarely has such a brief summary so thoroughly piqued my interest. It seemed certain the film would be played for laughs, a light-hearted farce, instead it’s something more along the lines of The Bourne Identity or Unknown meets The Twilight Zone. While those films each invoke similar losses of identity, theirs are tied to trauma-induced amnesia. There is a clear conspiracy at work and each navigates their confusion with spartan efficiency, reclaiming their identity through their own astonishing capabilities. Marc’s case is much less straight-forward, and he cannot determine what has even happened much less what course of action to take.
What begins as this seemingly simple prank, wherein Marc insists with increasing urgency that anyone acknowledge the loss of his signature mustache, quickly escalates into a paranoid thriller in the vein of Hitchcock. His life becomes an absurd nightmare, with each new twist flowing logically from the last in that dreamy way where it doesn’t stop making sense until after you awaken. The film provides no clear answer to what has happened to Marc, he has as little idea what’s going on as we do. With his sanity in question, his friends abandoning him, and his grip on reality lost Marc flees to the airport and catches the next leaving plane. He has no grand plans, in fact when he gets there he spends his time riding ferries back and forth with no destination. His grip on reality seems to have been tethered to his mustache–without it, he doesn’t know what is true and false and eventually even who he is or what he’s doing.
Marc had been defined by his mustache, his wife even jokes that she’d never recognize him without it. So, he shaves it off and becomes a totally different person—or else everyone else does. I don’t want to spoil too much, as the film’s escalating ethereality is one of its most entertaining elements. Every event is played with a perfect ambiguity that only enhances the films steadfast insistence on audience interpretation. Carrère himself has said he has no idea what the film means, and he even wrote the novel it was based on. This ambiguity is one of the greatest strengths of La Moustache, and instead of the absurd resolution we get in similar American films (I’m thinking again of the dreadfully mediocre Unknown), this French thriller treats its audience with a modicum of respect. La Moustache trusts us to interpret it on our own, to sink into the same confusion as Marc and revel in it. The way the film is built it hints at a number of interpretations, each is defensible though none can be said to be wholly correct.
In the end, La Moustache is a highly original thriller with an incomparably awesome plot. The soundtrack is provided by Phillip Glass, and works marvelously with the film. Vincent Lindon as Marc is the most confidently helpless character I’ve seen on screen. He may not have any idea what’s going on or how to solve his problems, but he doesn’t hesitate to take action–however irrelevant or fruitless it may be. This is a film which never goes where you expect, it casts aside the boring cliches of the genre and crafts a pulse-pounding paranoid thriller without even so much as a single explosion. 2005’s La Moustache is easily the best movie I’ve seen on Netflix lately, and it definitely deserves your attention.