FILM REVIEW: La Moustache (2005)
In and of Itself:
by Fred Russell
La Moustache (2005), directed by Emmanuel Carrère and adapted from his own novel, is an intriguing film. Call it surrealistic. But what is surrealism? Is it pure and meaningless fantasy, or is it anchored in reality like the dream? I’ve seen it a couple of times and it has stayed with me as few films do.
Marc shaves off his mustache, or so it seems, for no one takes any notice of his new look. This is exasperating, but when he confronts his wife she insists he never had one, and his friends claim he hasn’t had one for 15 years, though he finds a recent picture of himself wearing the mustache. Marc now finds a message from his father on his answering machine but his wife tells him that his father has been dead for a year. She also insists that she doesn’t know who their two best friends are though they had just visited them. Marc then overhears his wife talking to another friend about having Marc committed, for clearly he is delusional, she says. He tries to see his mother but cannot find his childhood home and the familiar telephone number does not exist. Marc now retrieves his passport, which shows him with a mustache, and flies to Hong Kong, where he regrows it after spending some time in a Chinese village. When he returns to his hotel he finds his wife in his room as though they had been vacationing together all the while. She then asks him to shave off the mustache so that she can see what he looks like without it. He does so and she is pleased.
No one has really succeeded in deciphering the film. Some have called it symbolic. Some find the theme of identity in it, and there is indeed something to be said for an interpretation that revolves around the idea of the tenuousness and circumstantiality, the fragility, of human identity, which can be lost in an instant. I think, however, that the film is more in the mode of Alain Robbe-Grillet, that is, meaningless outside its own reality and reference points. In effect, it obliterates the time of the world and demonstrates its disjunction vis-à-vis inner time.
For clearly the film plays against the idea of time. Marc and his wife inhabit two different temporal universes, even parallel universes. In Marc’s universe he shaves off the mustache that he has always worn and his father is still alive. He inhabits a time that has passed, with a link to the present via the people who surround him. When he communicates with them it is from out of this earlier time. In reality, however, such a condition cannot exist unless someone really is delusional. This is not the film’s intention. Marc is not crazy and his wife is not out to drive him crazy. Not being able to find his childhood home underscores the fact that he has stepped out of reality. His time is not really linked to any reality. It is residual in that it bears with it traces of an earlier time but not all of it.
Linear time, however, is not the only time there is. It is the time of the physical and historical world, but it is not the time of the inner world. The mind invokes temporal events in whatever order suits it, or associatively in a subconscious process. This is lateral rather than progressive or chronological time, where all events have equal temporal value. Surrealism never seeks to explain itself. It creates worlds that are extensions of what we consider the real world and follow their own logic. La Moustache is such a film, intriguing only insofar as we wish to know what it means, but in and of itself it is nothing more than a demonstration of how two discordant systems of time are tenuously embedded in human consciousness.
About the reviewer:
Fred Russell is the pen name of an American-born writer living in Israel. His novel Rafi’s World (Fomite Press), dealing with Israel’s emerging criminal class, was published in Feb. 2014 and his stories and essays have appeared in Third Coast, Polluto, Fiction on the Web, Wilderness House Literary Review, Ontologica, Unlikely Stories: Episode 4, Gadfly, Cultural Weekly, In Parenthesis, etc. A second novel, The Links in the Chain, a thriller set in New York with an Arab-Israel background, is also due out in 2014.