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Saw La Moustache last night. I suspect it's a film that could never have been made in Hollywood. But it reminded me of something that's been bubbling in my head about cultural differences between Hollywood and Europe, and it has something to do with being very comfortable with sexuality, but very uncomfortable with intimacy.

But let me 'splain a little first. The core of the film is about a couple and a breakdown of reality. He shaves off his moustache of many years... and nobody notices. His wife denies he has ever had a moustache. He looks through his photos and sees a moustache, gets confirmation on his own. But this is the thin end of the wedge. Soon there are dozens of facts about their lives that she denies are true. Who is right? The relationship fades quickly into paranoia, enforced by the timing of everything; nobody quite gets a chance to definitively say what is fact and what is fantasy, nor can anyone's motives be definitively captured. The tension that builds is one of intimacy; of a pair of intimately connected people suddenly dealing with a psychotic break and watching their lives unravel.

It's a tension that is nearly as painful to watch in this tragic form as really good comedy of errors is. But in Hollywood, the tension would have to be relieved somewhere. There would be a hallucination scene that clearly points to one or the other's madness. Or there would be a really strong denouement, something like Jack running through the hotel with an axe. Or there would be a mystical person appear to assure him or her that he or she is sane. Or the madness would overwhelm, and all reality would break down. Or they'd find a room and it would all blow over with a laugh.

La Moustache does none of those things. And in so doing, it moves the terror of loss of self from the visceral into the cerebral, which is much more disturbing. Instead, when the protagonist's action occurs, it leads to a flight, a foreign episode that feels very like a dream, and then a return to reality with a very important assertion on his part. These episodes are broken out from the rest of the film subtly; a return to the theme of light on dark water, a sudden transition of Philip Glass' score into silence.

In the film's completion, it leaves us with something that is very real about intimacy; that there is a point beyond which what is real and what is illusion does not matter as much as the assertion that one will continue, and be a willing player in the game, the music, that is going on between two people. The film has has no clipboard with a checkbox at the bottom, saying "ah, OK, it's all alright now." Instead, it says "this time, I'm going to choose to ignore this piece of evidence and accept the mystery into my life."

It's a crucial element, that acceptance. Because once you've pushed the boat from the shore, you will never return to the same point on the shore. But you can return and accept the ways it has changed.

Hollywood, and especially the current Syfy tradition, can't cope. Somehow THIS world is more important than any other world. The time traveller MUST NOT step on that butterfly. The other version of you from the alternate universe MUST GO BACK and if it refuses, IT MUST DIE.

No. (Ah, a Hollywood moment: see, I'm asserting.)

You and your world are intimate with each other. You, yourself, must choose what you will be together, and that choice is always now. And the huge price of growing is letting go of who you were. If you can't do it, life has a big surprise for you at the end.


( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 4th, 2012 12:26 pm (UTC)
Interesting, Barry... Both the movie you describe and your take on it. It reminds of me things I'm going through with someone I'm close to.

I don't think it's entirely Hollywood's fault when it comes to that checklist you mention. I think people turn to art (and religion for that matter) to give them something to make sense of what is happening to them. And by "make sense" it often means "conform to my sense of how things are." Conspiracy theories answer this same need.

Mar. 4th, 2012 11:12 pm (UTC)
That's exactly what I'm saying. Burn the apple pie statement! (or is it the motherhood statement? I can't remember) Spec Fic at it's best should make you uneasy, make you question not just where you're going, but where you came from.

Not that there isn't room for Stargate. Plenty of it. But I think it's time what is called "genre" should be taken as seriously as the most serious modern lit. Frankly, I can't tell the difference between Pamuk and Atwood and Wolfe and Le Guin. It's all part of the great questioning.

I think your story for Analog was just that kind of thing. It pushes the envelope of what is real between two subjective frames (granted, one of which is projected, but all the same).
Mar. 5th, 2012 02:21 am (UTC)
Reply to your reply
Your comment reminds me of something that Frank Miller (creator of the Dark Knight Returns, the basis of the modern Batman, and The 300), once wrote, about how comic book creators needed to take hold of their art form and not allow it to become merely source material for the Hollywood movie machine. He wanted them to create work that took advantage of the medium's specific strengths instead of creating storyboards for movies. Ironic that he eventually turned his career toward making movies from his own work.

Quick FYI, the story you're referring to appeared in Asimov. I appreciate your opinion about it though.
Mar. 5th, 2012 08:34 am (UTC)
Re: Reply to your reply
Oh, Damn. I'm sorry. I ALWAYS get those two mixed up.

It happens a lot, and not just because they're both A-names with SF interiors. I really have trouble differentiating between the names Rebecca, Jennifer, and Jessica in memory. I think it's the double-consonants. Good thing I never dated anyone with those names, I guess.
Mar. 4th, 2012 12:30 pm (UTC)
True, and I think it has to do with commercial pressures and the blockbuster system, as well as the fact that French audiences are a bit more sophisticated in general.

However, it is interesting to see that Hollywood used to do this kind of thing all the time. It used to be comfortable in dealing with non-absolutes, and all the great philosophers of celluloid could go nuts. In some instances, they would even use the old Shakespearian trick of having an obvious plot for the cheap seats and innuendo and buried meaning for the more educated.

Times change, though.
Mar. 4th, 2012 11:15 pm (UTC)
Ah, now that's something I really miss. There was a time also when there was a whole separate and adult movie going on in innuendo in most children's movies. And then children started having to be "our friends". Who came up with that poppycock?

But I don't buy the "more sophisticated audience" theory, though. I've found an equal level of high and low brow in just about every culture I've ever had contact with. But the French do have a more openminded approach to funding and allowing the creation of films. I think it's the unwillingness to let the bean-counters run the show.
Mar. 5th, 2012 02:26 am (UTC)
I agree about the sophisticated audience comment. I rely on Sturgeon's Law in this regard. Ninety percent of French films are probably crap (I'm not enough of a French film expert to be certain), but the 10% we see probably skews our opinion of them.

I do think that "Blockbuster Syndrome," which set in during the 70's with films like Star Wars and Jaws, has had an effect. Hollywood started thinking they had to hit home runs with every film they made, which put undue emphasis on what would succeed as opposed to what they creators wanted to create. For a time I thought room was being made for smaller films, but I'm no longer sure. Perhaps alternate means of distribution will help create that space for people to experiment with the medium once more.
Mar. 5th, 2012 08:39 am (UTC)
Exactly! Star Wars really cranked up the daemons of marketing, who seem to be similar to the daemons of accounting, only with wings and bad taste in clothing. What do we call them if not bean-counters? Eyeball-counters?

And I realize when I say "Hollywood", I'm really talking about North American movies and TV series. They're as much about Toronto and Vancouver as L.A. and New York. We like our fiction tidy up here, and it's a crying shame.

But then, we also like to pay our bills and have something stashed away for retirement, so it's hard to argue against the hand that feeds you, isn't it?
Mar. 5th, 2012 12:48 pm (UTC)
I agree that the split between high and low brow is about equal, but I also think that this particular battle is fought in that nebulous "middle-brow" area where pseudo intellectuals and internet pundits reside. The French middle class has always been a hotbed of this type of person, while the US middle class, not so much (and if I had to vote, I would always side with the US philosophy, as nothing is quite as annoying as a pseudo intellectual).
Mar. 5th, 2012 02:03 pm (UTC)
We have a middle class? I thought they were hunted to extinction.
Mar. 5th, 2012 02:05 pm (UTC)
Nah, they just moved to the Midwest...
Mar. 4th, 2012 10:34 pm (UTC)
Is this a current in-theaters movie, or is this something I can see via something like Netflix? (I'd like to see it...)
Mar. 4th, 2012 11:16 pm (UTC)
I don't know what's available on Netflix, but here's the IMDB entry, if that helps: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0428856/ ;)
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )