Strange, at first, how a movie about a man who shaves his mustache and is distraught when no one notices begins with Philip Glass on the soundtrack and the opening credits superimposed over black, rippling waters. But La Moustache, the first feature from French novelist Emmanuel Carrère (adapting his 1986 book), uses this seemingly innocuous chamber comedy set-up as a point of entry for considering what happens when the world as it exists in our heads and the world as it’s agreed upon by other people stop syncing up.
As his tonsorial whim goes initially unremarked upon by wife Agnes and their dinner companions, Vincent London’s underplayed Marc has the wounded puppy-dog eyes of a casual narcissist. But when Agnes (ever-unselfish Emmanuelle Devos) declares that he’s never had a mustache, Glass’s upper-crust Twilight Zone strings become increasingly apropos.
Their bobo-chic habitat burnished by Patrick Blossier’s sleek cinematography, Marc and Agnes could be the Joneses all of Haneke’s Annes and Georges are keeping up with; as the shared foundation of their life crumbles, attempts to restart normal communication include therapist recommendations and shopping expeditions.
Carrère has an author’s talent for focalization, aligning perspective with Marc to weight equally his experience and the sum of his friends’ matter-of-fact denials. Carrère’s narrative elisions make the transition to screen less smoothly, as fade-outs and sidesteps (especially of potential photographic evidence) expose his conceit.
The sinister motives Marc gradually ascribes to his colleagues and intimates (coupled with Devos’s ambiguous performance) have the whiff of red herring, but a third-act change of scenery brings the existential implications of Carrère’s cipher into focus. That he dismantles the most comfortable of existences in just 86 minutes suggests La Moustache could be the start of an uneasy friendship.