Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Two close shaves.

[With gratitude toward my mother and her gift of a portable DVD player, an invaluable camping accessory.]

There isn’t much story to Sweeney Todd. A man is wronged and seeks revenge. Add in a murderous meat-pie subplot and that’s about it. Sweeney Todd is all surface glam. The songs and shaves provide some fun, but only barely enough to carry me through one viewing. The film’s greatest flaw, in my estimation, is that there is no emotional hook on which to hang my hat. There’s a broken love back-story that provides justification for all of the present mayhem, but the ridiculousness of the song and dance numbers and general over-the-top atmosphere distanced me from any real engagement with the story or the characters. That’s a shame because I think that the whole point of music in a musical is supposed to draw one further into the story, not away from it. Then again, I’ve always been biased against musicals. I almost always hate them so I won’t now pretend to understand them. I’ll leave Sweeney Todd to its fans and defenders.

La Moustache is one of the best films I’ve seen so far this year. It’s a classic example of what divides an artsy-fartsy film snob like myself from the rank and file of the mainstream moviegoer.

A man, Marc, has had the same moustache for 15 years. One morning, after his bath, Marc, on a whim, shaves his moustache. His wife doesn’t notice.

In the first 19 minutes, the film addresses issues of identity and insecurity with such skill and wisdom that I’d still consider the film a minor masterpiece if it ended abruptly after those 19 minutes.

What is amazing is that the film only gets better as it goes on. The seemingly silly premise of a man shaving his moustache develops into a taut psychological thriller.

The film’s third act is then comprised of a nearly wordless 20 minutes that is sure to frustrate some viewers, but I was held in rapt attention. The ending, too, is admittedly unsatisfactory, but I was somehow satisfied.

In the end, La Moustache manages to be both a conventional and deeply unconventional thriller. It is excellently structured, but remains fairly light on plot. Instead, it relentlessly builds a mood of alienation and isolation while exploring the transitory natures of identity and trust, all summed up neatly in the loss of a moustache.


Summer People said...

I'm surprised to say that I haven't seen or even heard of the second picture. It sounds interesting. But, I don't think you are as far divided with the rank and file mainstream moviegoers as you insist.

You have a pickier palette than I do but it doesn't make you an art snob. Art snobs are incapable of enjoying anything that isn't pre-approved by their ilk. Which basically makes them rank and file and somewhat mainstream, the only difference is that they are more willing to be bored out of their minds for the sake of reputation and status. I wouldn't even begin to lump you into that category--- and I mean that as a large compliment to your unique and sometimes differing taste.

with that said I'm sad to hear that Sweeney Todd didn't do it for you. I thought that I hated musicals after Moulin Rouge and Chicago came out.. then I remembered Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Singin in the Rain, and The Red Shoes and was reminded of how the genre should be. Sweeney Todd, perhaps because of Burton and his passion for his material, seemed to bring back those old films.

back to La Moustache....

as you mentioned the first nineteen minutes of this film it reminded me of a thought that I had the other day. Short films are hard to prioritize and because of this I feel robbed of many cinematic gems. I think that theaters, both mainstream and art house, should show a short film before the main attraction. This would probably boost the art film in ways that we couldn't have imagined.

Filmmakers either don't know how to turn the camera off or they don't have enough patience to become "termite art." The short film could solve the first problem, genuine auteurs will solve the second.

I'll try to keep writing, you do the same.

82jp said...

I loved La Moustache, myself.