Director – Emmanuel Carrere
Starring – Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos
I’m going to go ahead and tell you everything I know…or assume to know about this film. Spoilers be damned.
Now the premise is as simple as it is intriguing. A man shaves off his moustache for the first time in his adult life…and nobody notices. His wife, his friends, his co-workers….nobody notices. Even worse, nobody will even acknowledge that he ever had a moustache to begin with. Hilarious right? When I describe the premise of this film to people they inevitably assume it’s a comedy. It’s not. Or maybe it is…it’s French…who knows what the hell they think is funny.
The film opens with a husband and wife (Marc and Agnes) in their home. Marc is taking a bath. He asks his wife what she would think if he shaved off his moustache. She responds that she’s not sure….she never known him without it. She kisses him and says that she’s off to the store. She urges him to get ready for their dinner date at a friends house that evening. While she’s gone he finishes his bath….and decides to shave off his moustache…before finishing getting ready.
When Agnes arrives home from the store…Marc does his best to hide his clean shaven face from her…wanting to surprise her. Finally…he sneaks up behind her while she’s doing her makeup…and reveals himself in the mirror. Nothing. She looks right at him and doesn’t seem to notice. They continue getting ready and the only mention of appearance is Agnes noting how “tarty” her dress is.
As they arrive at their friends house Marc let’s Agnes out while he searches for a place to park. When Marc enters the house nobody mentions his new look. Their friends, a husband and wife and their young daughter, carry on like nothing is new. During dinner it is revealed that the male friend was once involved in a relationship with Agnes. He tells a story of a ski vacation he once took where Agnes manipulated the radiators in the small lodge they were staying in…so that only their room would be heated. As opposed to turning their heat down so everyone would benefit. Agnes denies denies denies. Despite how obvious it is that she did it, and despite the fact that it no longer matters…Agnes denies it.
On the way home Marc accuses Agnes of convincing their friends to play along with her ruse while he was parking the car. Agnes says she has no idea what he’s talking about. At home, in bed, the argument continues. Marc says she told their friends not to mention that he shaved off his moustache. The joke is old, he says. She admits to doing no such thing…and tells Marc that he’s never had a moustache. She even calls the friends to confirm her statement. Marc, frustrated, gets out of bed and heds to the den. Agnes stews before finally going to sleep. In the den Marc finds pictures of he and Agnes together on vactation in Bali. In the pictures he is sporting a moustache. He brings the pictures to the bedroom and sets them on the nightstand before going to bed. In the morning, half asleep, he notices Agnes take the photos from the nightstand.
At work that morning….nobody notices. The barista at the local coffee shop doesn’t even notice. Marc begins to think he’s losing his mind.
At home the tension with Agnes leads him to retrieve the clippings from his moustache out of the trash and to present them to her as evidence. Agnes is afraid and worried for Marc. She tells him so and says that she has “never lied” to him. He says he knows…and curls up on the bed defeated. Soon after this incident Marc begins to smoke again…having quit with Agnes several years earlier.
Trying to return to some sense of normalcy, Agnes and Marc spend an evening out. While shopping Agnes chooses a hideous jacket for Marc to try on…knowing he won’t like it. He doesn’t…but he pretends to…and purchases it. He wears it to dinner at one of their favorite restaurants that night. They both note that the restaurant has changed. Marc doesn’t mind the changes…Agnes hates them.
The next day, Agnes asks Marc if they still plan on having dinner with his parents that night. He tells her to call his parents and cancel. She asks him to repeat himself. He does…telling her to please call his parents and cancel. She looks at Marc sadly and says…”Marc…your father is dead..”. He reminds her that she just asked if they were planning on visiting his “parents”. She denies ever saying it. He thinks he’s losing it. The trip to Bali comes up…and she says that they have never been to Bali. The night with their friends comes up…she denies that they even have such friends. Marc escapes to the bedroom to sleep.
Agnes drugs Marc….and calls his boss Bruno over to their house. Marc wakes up…groggy…and overhears Bruno and Agnes plotting to have him committed to an insane asylum. Marc struggles to his feet, gets dressed, and despite Agnes and Bruno’s protests….he leaves the house. Too disoriented to drive, Marc flags down a cab. He instructs the cab driver to take him to his parents house. Despite living in the same town…he cannot quite direct the cab driver to his parents house. Outside the cab it’s pouring rain. From the cab he calls Agnes and instructs her and Bruno to meet him at his parents house. When they leave he returns home…grabs his passport…and heads to the airport.
Marc flies to Hong Kong. What? Yeah…anyways…once in Hong Kong Marc boards a ferry…then another. seemingly traveling without a destination. After another ferry ride he pays some fishermen to let him ride with them. On this ride he stares at his cellphone…contemplates calling Agnes…but instead tosses his phone into the river. After exiting that boat, Marc makes his way to a remote hotel and checks in. At some point he writes a postcard to Agnes…describing what she means to him. The next morning Marc walks around the village before stopping to have breakfast. His facial hair at this point is an unruly, unkempt, full beard and moustache. After breakfast he heads back to his room….where he finds…
…Agnes. What? No really. And she’s acting like they have been there the whole time on holiday. She tells him to get ready as tonight they are going out to meet some friends. Agnes wonders aloud what he would look like without his moustache. He shaves….and shaves it off. She says it looks cute…and tell him he’s handsome. She makes fun of his ugly new jacket. They have their dinner with her friends…and head back to their room. Agnes tells him that if he didn’t like her friends…they wouldn’t hang out with them again. He says they were fine…and at some point along their walk he tosses the postcard he had written to her off the boardwalk and into the river.
The movie ends with Marc laying in bed…closing his eyes…and the postcard sinking into the darkness of the river.
What the fuck did I just watch? Sitting there in front of my television…I couldn’t figure it out. Was it a David Lynchesque “weird for the sake of being weird” movie? Was it a sci-fi tale of alternate universes linked by one mans facial hair? Was it some Kafkaesque metaphor that I’ll never be cool or hip enough to understand? I didn’t get it. And I’m not ashamed to say that I’m usually pretty good at this type stuff. You know…finding the underlying message in a film. Usually I’m spot on. Heck..I’m pretty sure I was the first one to point out that Jurassic Park 2 was just a metaphor for the Korean War.
So it stuck with me. Even a few days after I saw it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I think it was the end that was bugging me the most. How did Agnes find him when he didn’t even seem to know where he was going? And why was she acting like they’d been there all along? Hmmm. I was starting to think this movie was like a Rubik’s cube…nobody would ever solve it. I didn’t even have a reasonable theory….at least one that didn’t fall apart at the end. I was focused on Agnes and her role in the story. The whole time it seemed like she was up to something. I just didn’t trust her. Then it hit me. The reason I didn’t trust her is because Marc didn’t trust her.
Here’s what I think. The majority of this movie…up until Marc steps out to have breakfast in Hong Kong….is just a dream. Or a peak into Marc’s anxieties. But let’s stay here in the shallow water and call it a dream. Marc has some issues. For one…and this is the big one…he doesn’t trust his wife. Not at all. During the entire dream, she is cast in an untrustworthy light. Their conversation about her “tarty” outfits is just another layer of that mistrust. The dinner with her ex, his story from their ski trip, the jacket he buys to please her, they way they each react to the changes at their favorite restaurant….they all tell a similar story. Marc’s marriage is in trouble. Besides not trusting his wife, he’s starting to question his role in the relationship. He’s starting to wrestle with the perceived loss of his personal identity. He’s starting to wonder if he still holds her interest. Call it a mid-life crisis. The dream extends to include his job and his parents. His boss is present when Agnes drugs him with the intention of having him committed. And when he doesn’t acknowledge the death of his father. Marc has some shit he needs to deal with.
There are a few dreamlike instances thrown in. In the cab searching for his parents house, he can’t see outside his window because of the torrential rain that is pounding on the windows. Water is a big theme throughout the dream. Another example is how a restaurant that is very familiar to them…is suddenly different. I don’t know. I could be wrong.
La Moustache is a really good movie. The directing, the cinematography, the music, the acting…it’s all top notch. It’s worth checking out and coming up with your own theory. Like I said, it stuck with me for awhile after I watched it. Even though I found it confusing and bizarre….I enjoyed it. I still have a few lingering questions (What was the deal with the postcard?) and i’ll probably never truly understand it. But it was good. You should watch it.