When watching a film, the viewer expects certain privileges. Don’t we, as the observer, have some special right to know everything? As the characters are woven in and out of “reality,” shouldn’t we be entitled to keep things straight? And at the end of the movie, shouldn’t we be able to sum up the importance of their film-lives and leave with the self-satisfaction of having somehow organized their complicated existences into a 90-minute summary for which we are personally responsible?According to the film La Moustach, shown at the Wriston auditorium this past weekend as part of the Tournées Festival of French films, we have no such right. The film was based on a simple act: Marc, a lifelong mustache-wearer, shaves off his mustache and no one notices. How normal.
Things turn very odd rather quickly, however, when his wife, Agnes, insists that he’s never had a mustache. In fact, everyone seems to think he’s nuts for insisting that he ever did.
This is where the audience begins to get uncomfortable. We saw him shaving it off; we saw the old mustached pictures of him; we saw the stranger in the metro station confirm the presence of the mustache in his old ID. We even heard his wife tell him, “I wouldn’t recognize you without it.” If the strangers in the periphery of his life recognize the obvious, what’s wrong with his wife and best friends?
There are more problems than the main question of what is real; Marc’s plight must also be a search for identity. His first night out, he presents his clean-shaven face to his friends, posing proudly and silently like a child boasting a lost tooth. They notice nothing.
The viewer isn’t concerned, but Marc is immediately troubled. It’s almost shocking how badly he needed his friends to notice his new look. Perhaps he wanted attention; perhaps this was a test for his friends to identify him.
As the film continues, and as the lives of Marc and Agnes fall farther and farther into their separate and distant realities, we are assaulted with more evidence from both sides. We look over Marc’s shoulder at mustached photos; we hear Agnes ask, “What photos?”
We hear the voicemail message from Marc’s dad; we see Agnes nearly cry a minute later in insisting that her father-in-law is long deceased. And through all this, there’s nothing that would tell us definitively who was right. You could argue endlessly either side, with a fair amount of evidence.
But when Marc and Agnes’ lives come colliding back together, there’s no “aha!” feeling. We know what is real now, but the newfound security sheds no light on the previous hour and a half.
We are left with an image of a postcard, written when he was alone and discarded while with his wife, floating downwards through a current of water, and any clarity of his life is thus flushed away in the confusing flux of his life, his reality, and his mind.