LaMoustacheA man loses touch with reality after shaving off his mustache in this French-made excursion in surreal paranoia that’s ominous, unsettling and extremely well acted.

LA MOUSTACHE (THE MUSTACHE) was made in 2005 by writer-director Emmanuel Carrere, who’s better known as a novelist.  This film was adapted from one of Carrere’s novels, a 1986 work of fiction that was much acclaimed by the likes of John Updike.  It’s about a man who shaves off his mustache and then goes mad when nobody notices.  This film follows the book fairly closely until the ending, which Carrere has expanded and improved upon from the book’s gross and inconclusive coda (in which the protagonist slashes up his face during a final shave).

Marc, a smug Parisian yuppie, shaves off his mustache one evening as a surprise for his wife Agnes.  Agnes, however, doesn’t seem to notice the absence of Marc’s ‘stache and neither do his friends.  Marc eventually cracks and asks Agnes if she notices his missing mustache.  She replies that he never had one in first place.

Marc grows increasingly paranoid.  He comes to suspect his wife and friends are all in on a plot against him, which seems confirmed when he overhears them planning on having him hauled off to a mental institution.

Marc decides to hightail it to his parents’ house—but when he tries to phone them an operator informs him the number he’s calling doesn’t exist.  Now completely discombobulated, Marc heads for the airport and takes off to the first destination that catches his eye: Hong Kong, where he becomes a drifter amidst the teeming populace and in the process grows his mustache back.  But then he rents a motel room, which he enters to find…his wife Agnes!

Many commentators (this one included) figured the primary influences on this strange tale were the works of Kafka and David Lynch, but Emmanuel Carrere is adamant that his true inspiration was the veteran American horror/sci fi master Richard Matheson, of THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, I AM LEGEND and DUEL.  Matheson is known for his vivid depictions of men locked in a lonely struggle with otherworldly forces bigger than themselves, and it’s that sense of paranoid apprehension Carrere was clearly striving for in LE MOUSTACHE.  What he wasn’t trying for was a coherent story; Carrere says he doesn’t have an explanation for the film’s bizarre events, and none is offered.

Carrere’s direction is resolutely straightforward and non-showy.  There are no weird opticals or voice-overs to help along the story (although there is a noisy Philip Glass score that would have benefited from more judicious usage), which is almost entirely psychological in nature.

It’s largely up to the actors to keep things moving.  Vincent Lindon is certainly up to the challenge as the increasingly befuddled Marc, but the real surprise is Emmanuelle Devos as his wife.  The role is thankless and (as the actress has admitted) largely reactive, but Devos lends it a real sense of sexiness and gravity.  As played by Devos, the character’s determination to carry on with the mundane details of her day-to-day life in the midst of increasing insanity comes to take on a vaguely threatening air.  The effect is one of subtle menace that will make an undeniable impression on viewers, whether they “understand” the film or not.

Vital Statistics 


Director: Emmanuel Carrere
Producer: Anne Dominique Toussant
Screenplay: Emmanuel Carrere, Jerome Beaujour
(Based on a novel by Emmanuel Carrere)
Cinematography: Patrick Blossier
Editing: Camille Cotte
Cast: Vincent Lindon, Emmanuel Devos, Mathieu Amalric, Hippolyt Girardot, Cylia Malki, Macha Polikarpova, Fantine Camus, Frederic Imberty, Brigitte Bemol, Denis Menochet, Franck Richard