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“La Moustache,” “Mouchette”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “La Moustache,” Cinema Guild/Koch Lorber, 2006]

You could down a trough of Gogol, Kafka and Buñuel and still not come up with an absurd domestic apocalypse as simple and disconcerting as that of Emmanuelle Carrère’s “La Moustache.” It begins with a banal bathroom question: should I shave my mustache? Marc (Vincent Lindon) asks his wife this as he’s lathering up in a bath before a dinner party; “Never seen you without it,” Emmanuelle Devos’s Agnes shrugs. He does the deed, hides his face coyly, and then the unimaginable happens — she says nothing. His friends don’t notice, his co-workers (at a storefront design firm) are mute. Every conversation is a spit in his eye, because it’s a denial of the obvious. Does anyone ordinarily notice him? Agnes soon flips out — her husband never had a mustache. At first, Marc thinks it’s all an elaborate joke, then he wonders if he’s having delusions, both of which are happier scenarios than the last stop on this existential rail line to nowhere: that Carrère’s hero is in fact invisible, incorporeal, present but somehow irrelevant, a Kafkaesque non-person.

Is this psychology, or something scarier, something cosmic, like “It’s a Wonderful Life” and its psychosis-evoking penultimate act? Is it science fiction? “La Moustache” is all the more chilling because what happens to this couple happens every day — every marriage as its seizures of cognitive dissonance, and every middle-ager wakes up one day to a life and self he or she doesn’t recognize. As David Byrne used to holler, my God, what have I done? The acting is peerless: Devos, she of the relentlessly fascinating Picasso face, never wavers in her conviction, but it’s Lindon’s film. Thick-faced but lipless, with a natural frown and the worried eyes of an old dog, he is perfectly cast as an average semi-macho schmo caught in the ultimate pre-menopausal nightmare.

French nightmares are almost by definition mundane — like Robert Bresson’s “Mouchette” (1967), a wounding, epochal analysis of a neglected and abused teenage girl on her blank-faced way to the grave. An inarticulate country girl with a dying mother and an alcoholic father, Mouchette (Nadine Nortier) is almost ritually humiliated, insulted and exploited by everyone around her — an all-too-common paradigm for poverty-stricken, post-agricultural social settings, which was surely original novelist Georges Bernanos’s point. In Bresson’s no-nonsense hands, this grim fable becomes a pantomime stations of the cross, so completely focused on sensuous details, ethical interrogation and the fastidious lasering-away of movie bullshit (like acting and action) that it comes close to the simple thrust of a medieval Christian icon. That the film is a saint’s passion doesn’t mean it’s overtly Christian — Bresson is far less a spiritualist than a precision pragmatist, with a holy man’s crystal-clear moral vision. (This goes for Bresson’s “Diary of a Country Priest” and “Au Hasard Balthazar” as well, making up a kind of trilogy of the down-trodden.)

Bresson shoots tragedy with an unblinking, unpunctuated lens — he corners you into empathy without making it easy or easily forgotten. Still, however you read the Bresson experience, he arguably stands as the most mysterious and elusive master filmmaker, demanding and repaying patience like no one else. The large library of critical scholarship on him still hasn’t fully sussed him out, or fully translated his intensely particular strategy into a relatable idea. He’s a tough cookie, and it may be that his movies cannot be written about eloquently, but only watched. Nonetheless, this Criterion disc comes lugging exegesis, including an audio commentary by old-school scholar/critic Tony Rayns, two TV docs about Bresson and the making of “Mouchette,” an essay by author Robert Polito, and the original theatrical trailer, edited by Jean-Luc Godard.

“La Moustache” (Koch Lorber) and “Mouchette” (Criterion) will be available on DVD January 16th.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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