I've been bad about seeing foreign films lately. Seems like almost everything I've been seeing this year has been American-made. Of this I am much ashamed, as often the best films I see each year come from other countries. But the truth is, those that are released in the US have such misleading marketing strategies nowadays that I am rarely compelled to go. For instance, can anyone be blamed for avoiding a film called La Moustache - about a Frenchman who shaves off his mustache?
My wife and I went to this film only because it was a hot day, we wanted to cool down in a dark movie theater, and there was nothing out there that we really wanted to see. So we took a chance and, to my surprise, La Moustache turned out to be something very strange and intriguing.
Yes, our hero Marc (Vincent Lindon) does - on a whim - shave off the mustache that he's sported for years during the film's opening moments. At first, when Marc's own wife Agnes (Emmanuelle Devos) doesn't notice anything different about him, it appears as though La Moustache will be a light comedy about the overfamiliarity of long-married couples. But when Agnes, Marc's friends, and his coworkers soon inform Marc that he never had a mustache - even though he can see it clearly in old photos and on his passport - the story takes a sharp left turn into Kafka territory.
There is nothing light or whimsical about La Moustache, a paranoid, even nightmarish drama about identity that asks existentialist questions about whether we really know ourselves. At first I, a literal-minded American, found it hard to fight my urge to ask, "Well, why doesn't he just prove he had a mustache by..." and accept that, in true Kafka fashion, the "why" behind this surreal situation is not to be explained. Just as we do not question why Gregor Samsa has woken up as a giant cockroach in The Metamorphosis, and instead observe how this change affects his relationship with his family, so too must audiences simply sit back and watch Marc's knowledge of his self vanish before his - and our - very eyes.
La Moustache is a disconcerting film, and while I won't give away some of the surprise twists, I can at least say that the story is something very unusual and compelling. Oblique, repetitive, and slow-moving at times, La Moustache is possibly more interesting to write about than to actually watch, but for those with a yearning for arty subtitled fare, it's worth seeing.