Dir:Emmanuel Carrere. Fr. 2005. 86mins.

What seems like a merewhisker of a premise yields surprising results in The Moustache, aneconomical but impressive fiction debut by French director-writer EmmanuelCarrere.

Originally known as ajournalist and novelist - his works were adapted by Claude Miller and NicoleGarcia as Class Trip and L'Adversaire respectively - Carrere tookto directing in 2003 with the Russian-set documentary Return To Kotelnitch.

In a story co-scripted byCarrere from his own 1986 novel, a man shaves off his moustache, only to findhis wife and friends denying he ever had one. This may seem the flimsiest ofstarting points, but Carrere takes it in directions that are genuinelyunpredictable and quietly unnerving.

A strong lead by well-liked,gravitas-laden Vincent Lindon should boost its home box-office (its Frenchrelease is set for July), and the film's confident simplicity - not to mentionthematic overtones of such screen surrealists as Bunuel, Polanski and Lynch -should make it highly marketable abroad. The film was launched by a slot inDirectors' Fortnight in Cannes, where it won the Label Europa Cinemas Prize.

Lindon plays happily-marriedarchitect Marc, first seen in his bathroom idly remarking to his wife Agnes(Devos) that he's wondering about shaving off his moustache. Never having seenhim without it, she is not enthusiastic about the idea. Nevertheless, seeminglyon a whim, he shaves it off, only to find that Agnes doesn't even notice.Neither, for that matter, do the friends they dine with that evening, nor hisco-workers the next day. As Marc's initially comic bafflement and frustrationincrease, every certainty in his life starts to crumble, including his faith inhis own sanity.

About three-quarters of theway through this tightly narrated story, Carrere throws a curveball by havingMarc flee to Hong Kong, where he rides back and forth on a ferry before headingoff further into the unknown - at which point the narrative loops back onitself in a manner that will either delight viewers with its elegant audacity,or have them gnashing their teeth in fury.

The originality of Carrere'sconception is that he takes an idea that initially seems little more thanmaterial perhaps for a gently absurdist comedy of manners, and takes itabsolutely seriously. From seemingly inconsequential beginnings, Carreremercilessly raises the stakes, as Marc flounders in a vortex of existentialanxiety that he appears to have unleashed himself.

Carrere's narrativetechnique is a case study in playing the rational against the irrational, andhe persuades us to accept totally all every perplexing contradiction he throwsat us - in the manner of Bunuel's That Obscure Object Of Desire, say, orLynch's Lost Highway.

The themes - solitude,uncertainty, the fragility of human identity - make the film very much of apiece with Carrere's other work: The Adversary was about a man whoselife goes off the rails when he loses his job, and significantly, Carrere isalso the biographer of American writer Philip K Dick, master of paranoidscience-fiction.

The film's absolutenarrative spareness is bolstered by a subtly ominous sound design that makesmemorable, brooding use of Philip Glass's Concerto For Violin And Orchestra.A strong support cast is headed by Emmanuelle Devos, in the ambivalent role ofthe wife who could be Marc's salvation or could be the one who sets hiscollapse in motion.

Prod cos
Les Films des Tournelles
Pathe Renn Production
France 3 Cinema

Int'l sales
Pathe Distribution

Fr dist
Pathe Distribution

Jerome Beaujour
Emmanuel Carrere
from the novel by
Emmanuel Carrere

Anne-Dominique Toussaint

Patrick Blossier

Prod des
Francoise Dupertuis

Camille Cotte

Main cast
Vincent Lindon
Emmanuelle Devos
Mathieu Amalric
Hippolyte Girardot
Cylia Malki