Our souls have little recourse these days: we neither believe in anything greater than ourselves nor have faith in our own jaded path. From one side we are assailed by the backwash of persons who interpret religion (and, it should be said, everything else) for the solitary purpose of lining their pockets, while speaking with the righteousness of men who have endured the worst of human atrocities. From the other side we are faced with the nihilist materialism of indifference and moral irresponsibility that has become the calling card of twentieth− and twenty−first century philosophizing. Everyone is inherently evil; everyone is always selfish; we are all ants on a hill, slaving and bowing before phantom rules; we can know nothing except that there is no God, because if there were, He would surely have made things much easier on the world. Between these two trenches one finds a group of ecumenical optimists, steeped in learning and aimed at abolishing pain in the world regardless of creed, gender, race, or any other category that, in the end, means nothing at all. There are, of course, other groups. But one has a choice, as a privileged citizen in a privileged land, to make a difference, even if the difference is simply noticeable in how we feel and think about our universe and how we treat one another. Among all of mankind’s disgraces, our treatment of those who might be mad or not socially commendable is one of the greatest abominations. We see this from an early age, when the weaker and more vulnerable are immediately targeted by resident bullies; when we laugh at the humiliation of others who cannot seem to fit the pattern of acceptable mediocrity that society promotes; when we put down everyone and everything that tells us of history’s triumphs — and its lessons. One thing that history has indeed made clear is that we are not islands: we need others to formulate our identity. We may think of ourselves in a certain way, but we are free to change our opinion as the winds might shift and flounder. Others do not have this luxury, however, which brings us to this unusual film.
The titular whiskers belong to Marc (Vincent Lindon), a strapping if dull Frenchman in his early forties preoccupied with the normal tasks that a man his age might find interesting with the important exception of children. He and his wife Agnès (Emmanuelle Devos) talk in the normal manner so commonly incident to married people who know every last thing about one another. One day, Marc suggests shaving his mustache, to which Agnès replies: “I like you with it; I wouldn’t recognize you without it.” Just another humdrum exchange in a life long since liberated from spontaneity and surprise? We are led to believe this is so until a dispute arises between the couple on a most ridiculous subject: whether Marc had a mustache to begin with. Thereby is launched a sticky little game that may not make sense initially and may seem even more baffling as the film rolls to its concluding scene. We get a variety of conflicting information: Agnès claims Marc has never sported facial hair; Marc finds mustached pictures of him in Bali which Agnès pretends never existed; a policewoman (representing, we suppose, both legal authority and objectivity) whom he meets on the street tells Marc he does have a mustache in his identification card photo; and, most revealingly, Marc makes two mistakes. He forgets — if that is the right word here — that his father passed away a year ago, and goes on and on about two very good friends of theirs, Serge and Nadia, that Agnès does not know in the least. There are more telltale signs of unhingement, and then Marc overhears Agnès talking to her friend Bruno (Hippolyte Girardot) about committing Marc to an asylum, at which point the film’s pulse quickens.
You will not discover my interpretation on this page, but I will say that Marc is not mad. Nor, I hasten to add, is the director on whose novel the film is based. There is a sad red thread through all the events that suggests a connection between the death of Marc’s father, his own lack of offspring, and the befuddling omnipresence of Bruno in which computerized minds might detect something altogether sinister. Yet the key detail is that different people are divided on a facial feature that is so difficult to miss as to suggest that anyone who cannot see it must indeed be insane. The only person who does not waver is Marc himself, because we are not really talking about his mustache but about Marc. And who is Marc, anyway? A remarkable final scene that goes against everything else in the film except one important sliver of evidence might shed some light. And if not, at least you will become very familiar with Hong Kong ferries.