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Staring some disturbing questions right in the face

July 07, 2006|Kevin Thomas | Special to The Times

Emmanuel Carrere's witty, elegant "La Moustache" is a deliciously unsettling, beautifully sustained enigma, a film of much beauty and flawless performances, especially from Vincent Lindon in one of his most demanding roles.

Lindon's Marc is one of those ruggedly attractive men who make middle age look good. He's a successful Parisian, the proprietor of what appears to be an advertising agency. He lives in a sleek, modern apartment with an equally sleek wife, the lovely, coolly self-assured Agnes (Emmanuelle Devos). Their lifestyle is rigorously chic and au courant. Their relationship even appears to be passionate after many years together.

As the couple prepares to go out to dinner at the home of another couple -- the husband turns out to be Agnes' first husband -- Marc, with furtiveness and haste, impulsively shaves off his moustache. But not only does no one notice, everyone insists Marc hasn't worn a moustache for years, if ever. At that point, the film is off and running.

Marc believes he hasn't lost his mind but is plunged into tormented perplexity. Agnes is concerned but patient, eventually suggesting therapy for couples. Vacation photos showing Marc with a moustache seem to vanish, and Marc's anguish accelerates.

Carrere is an audacious high-wire artist who never slips for a second. He has pulled off the tricky feat of creating a satisfying film without ever spelling anything out. At first "La Moustache" seems to be a modern variation on "Gaslight" with Agnes seemingly deliberately driving her husband crazy. While it's true that an anecdote of her first husband suggests that she could indeed be manipulative, even sinister, it's clear that Carrere, in bringing his own novel to the screen, has bigger ideas in mind.

"La Moustache" can be taken as a metaphor for marriage, and how couples stop seeing each other as they really are and perhaps themselves as well. Beyond this, Carrere evokes the feeling that glitches can occur in the ways the universe operates that are far beyond human comprehension, with the suggestion that the Parisian haute bourgeoisie, so confident and smug in its sense of self-control and superiority, could scarcely be more vulnerable to the irrational. Effortless and droll in his style, as detached as he is compassionate, Carrere, in his first fiction film, proves to be a masterfully tantalizing storyteller.


`La Moustache'

MPAA rating: Unrated.

A Cinema Guild release. Director Emmanuel Carrere. Producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint. Screenplay Jerome Beaujour and E. Carrere. Based on the novel by Emmanuel Carrere. Cinematographer Patrick Blossier. Editor Camille Cotte. Music extracts from "Concerto for Violin and Orchestra" by Philip Glass. Costumes Elisabeth Tavernier. Production designer Francoise Dupertuis. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes.

Exclusively at Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869; and Laemmle's Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.

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