Tuesday, May 30, 2017

JRO's #77: La Moustache (Emmanuel Carrère, 2005)

Director: Emmanuel Carrère
Writers: Jérôme Beaujour, Emmanuel Carrère (novel), Emmanuel Carrère (screenplay)
Stars: Vincent Lindon, Emmanuelle Devos, Mathieu Amalric
Release Date: 15 May 2005 (Cannes Film Festival)

IMDb SynopsisMarc is sitting in his bath one morning and asks his wife, "how would you feel if I shaved off my mustache?" She doesn't think it's a great idea, for the 15 years they've been married, ... (that's from the plot summary and not the synopsis, but it appears at the top of the page cut off like that. IMDb is weird. I just learned that all of these IMDb summaries and synopses are user-submitted. The one for this movie is incredibly long; I don't think that the writer knew what 'synopsis' meant! http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0428856/synopsis?ref_=ttpl_pl_syn. I think that IMDb usually automatically picks whatever is briefest. In this case, there was nothing brief!)

First Time
Late May or very early June, 2009. I posted about it in the early pre-Howard days of CR5FC: http://chasingpictures.blogspot.com/2009/06/two-close-shaves.html
We were living off-grid all that summer. No electricity meant no moving pictures. About a month into this movie exile, my mother gave me a portable DVD player/screen combo (7" screen, I think) and I was back in film club business. I still didn't watch that much, but I could charge the device at work during the day and get about 2.5 hours of tiny viewing pleasure at night.

Why it's on the List
Well, sometimes I have facial hair (a lot of it), and sometimes I do not. That's probably reason enough to love a film about a man, his moustache, and the people in his life who deny he ever had one. The film is incredibly hard to write about (see the "synopsis" link above, but don't actually read it) briefly because one wants to (in fact, must) engage with the details in order to make sense of the whole. Any review that goes beyond describing the plot and construction of the film risks becoming more about the reviewer than about the film being reviewed. This is always a "danger" of writing about anything, but certain works invite this more than others.

The basic plot of the film is simple. A man shaves off his moustache. No one notices. All of the important people in his life, including his wife of 15 years, insist that he never had a moustache. Yet he knows he had a moustache: he has his memories, he has photos, he has moustache hair clippings. All of this is developed skillfully into a thrilling exploration of truth, identity, communication, and perspective. 

The plot is thin and rightly so. It may be a frustrating film to many, but I find these real frustrations of the film to be emotionally resonant. These are real frustrations, rarely communicated with such power and directness. Sometimes the surreal can achieve what the real cannot.

The film is visually impressive. I haven't tried it, but I'm pretty sure that the film would work just as well with no dialogue. The dialogue is very good and sometimes very important, but the visual language is impressive enough to carry the film on its own. A recurring visual water metaphor communicates the fluid states of identity and relationships. Water is a symbol of both change and permanence. The actors communicate all of their emotions and frustrations, inner turmoils, through physical looks and actions, without ever hamming it up.

Then there's the music. Philip Glass at his best, used to great effect. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rM2KLeoRBGo

Additional Notes/Stats
  • I bought the English translation of the novel(la) and never read it. I probably never will. 
  • This is the only film I've seen Vincent Lindon in. He has 70 acting credits on IMDb. I'm pretty sure I've missed a lot of great performances. I've seen both Amalric and Devos in a few other things, notably both together in A Christmas Tale. Just looking over the filmographies of these three makes me acutely aware of how much contemporary French cinema I am ignorant of.
  • The Seventh Continent is the Haneke film probably in my 101-200 and was considered for the 100 (of course I'm lying about this as we all know that Funny Games is in each of our Top 10s). I bring it up here because the films share a similarity in being "blank slates," very neutrally constructed films that resist interpretation and answers. Ed Gonzalez (one of Brando's favs) wrote about this one: "The film is an unpretentious blank slate—almost totally without point but so unassuming it earns consideration.......The film is scarcely forceful, inviting any and all interpretations but never daring one itself. I'm not sure if this exposes Carrère as a philosopher without a point of view or indicates a refreshing form of art-house charity. Perhaps that's for us to interpret as well." http://www.slantmagazine.com/film/review/la-moustache
  • As a counter to Gonzalez, this essay is a helpful reading of the film, outlining very clear signals/symbols that direct our engagement with the film: http://offscreen.com/view/carreres_la_moustache
  • La Moustache is currently free to watch on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlEKa0rBdco

1 comment:

  1. Been meaning to check this one out for a while now. Adding it to my queue.