- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 2, 2006

A person’s identity is often inextricably linked to his or her physical appearance: hairstyle, nose shape, eye color, and so forth. Given this fact, what happens when a defining feature is revised or even vanishes?

In Emmanuel Carrere’s latest offering, “La Moustache” (in French with English subtitles), something as simple as shaving off a mustache not only alters the way a man is perceived by others, but dramatically transforms his very sense of self, his understanding of his personal history.

A handsome, middle-aged architect, Marc Thiriez (Vincent Lindon) resides in a sleek, Parisian home with a lovely Parisian wife, Agnes (Emmanuelle Devos), and he appears successful on both work and home fronts.

One night, he toys with the idea of shaving off his mustache. Despite his spouse’s objections, he clear-cuts his hirsute forest and washes away all the evidence while his wife is out of the room. When his newfangled countenance is revealed, however, his partner doesn’t detect any difference. Nor do the couple’s dinner companions that night, longtime friends Serge and Nadia.

Huh?

Marc grows increasingly incensed and comes to believe he is the butt of some sort of joke, yet no one will confess.

Agnes later tells Marc that he has never had a mustache, and in hours and days that follow, others will corrobate her claim. So why, then, do his vacation photos show him in all his shaggy glory?

Other reality-shaking bombs fall on Marc’s world when, for example, Agnes tells him she doesn’t know who Serge and Nadia are. She suggests he enter therapy, but when Marc overhears her discussing straitjackets and sedatives on the phone, he decides to escape.

He heads to Hong Kong to get lost (the way he already feels inside), and eventually reunites with his wife there in a scene that makes it difficult for even the audience to distinguish fact from fiction. Did he or didn’t he?

While this existential drama may plod at times, “La Moustache” is a lovely, well-cast film that scrutinizes what makes — and unmakes — a man, a relationship.

**1/2

TITLE: “La Moustache”

RATING: Unrated

CREDITS: Written and directed by Emmanuel Carrere. Based on his book.

RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes

WEB SITE: www.cinemaguild.com/

lamoustache/

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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