Monday, April 20, 2009

THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND (1990) d. Patrice Leconte

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

We have many powerful memories of our youthful years, some of which revolve around family, the holidays, special occasions and occasionally frightening experiences. There are few people who aren’t willing to admit that love and passion are certainly some of the strongest of our distant recollections. The first time you fall in love absolutely, surrender yourself to all-consuming passion and realize that you have been changed irrevocably must rank as one of the most deeply-seeded impressions in both the mind and the heart. When the memory of childhood first love and attraction is also exceedingly similar to the adult incident of finding the “love of your life”, even if the two are not the same person, then the reminiscences must then be especially poignant. THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND (LE MARI DE LA COIFFEUSE) is a deeply atypical offering from the fine people at Severin Films that instead of focusing on wildly exotic sex and beautiful naked female forms, it puts erotic attraction in the most appropriate of contexts, that of the beauty of simple but overwhelming passionate love for a person with whom you are best suited to create happiness for as long as God provides the opportunity. A tale that mirrors so many of the quirks, charms, joys and sorrows of life, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is the kind of movie that should touch anyone who knows the all-consuming elation of falling in love, the incandescent flame of passion and the briefness of happiness and life here on this Mortal Plane of Existence.

THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is the story of Antoine, a middle-aged man looking back on a life that has been shaped by a desire to get exactly what he most wants, love and ardent physical pleasure at the hands of a striking female hairdresser. At the tender age of 12, Antoine first experiences intense infatuation for a buxom and redheaded hairdresser, whom Antoine eventually becomes obsessed with and goes to for haircut after haircut, even when there is no need. The incredible delight and emotional satisfaction that Antoine experiences helps to crystallize in his soul the need to have just such a woman when he is a grown man. Many years later, a lovely young woman named Mathilde takes over Isidore’s barbershop and Antoine makes a dedicated but somewhat awkward effort to woo her. Despite his affectionate clumsiness, Antoine succeeds and what follows is ten years of wedded bliss as Mathilde and Antoine’s lives twine about the most beautiful of simplicities, the need of one person for another and the ability of each to fulfill the deepest of those needs, both spiritual and physical.

THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is that best of French cinema that combines a light-hearted sense of fun, exceedingly simplistic and yet engaging story lines, appealing characters, some moments of serious reflection and societal criticism as well as fine performances and attractive to photography, to end up as an entertaining, thoughtful and surprisingly intricate short tale of romance, friendship and the inescapability of sadness and the ending of joy. What sets THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND apart to some degree from most French films I have seen is its relatively short runtime of 82 minutes, a pace that, while not brisk, is not the curvilinear path that most Gallic cinema takes and its absolutely marvelous mix of charisma, eccentric moments and portrayals mixed with some superbly melancholy punctuations to its overall statement. Much like another French favorite of mine, BETTY BLUE, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND takes a couple, puts them into situations where we see the growth of their emotional and physical attraction and later commitment to each other, but then that is juxtaposed with the overmastering cruelties of life like aging, tragedy and change. What makes THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND that much better is the untroubled beauty of the love of Antoine and Mathilde for each other, the exquisiteness of their uncomplicated existence as they move through their daily routines and yet make each person the pinnacle of existence and the reason for their continued happiness. Both Antoine and Mathilde are portrayed in a down-to-earth and yet adorably sophisticated manner by Jean Rochefort and Anna Galiena. From their facial expressions to their gentle caresses to the gleam in each others’ eyes, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND captures the very essence of what the most rewarding love should be like.

Throughout THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND, there is a mix of visual and auditory beauty that also leaves the viewer with the knowledge that they are watching something special. There is a softly modulated sense of color that feels like the entire film is seen through the filter of memory which adds an entire layer of emotional impact. All of the colors are bright and striking, but they do not blaze. It is as if we are seeing this film though a gentle midsummer’s haze that mimics the mistiness of the mind’s eye. In addition, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is attractive in many other fashions, like how marvelously wide and patiently photographed each seen is. We linger on images just long enough to allow them to sink into our psyche and be captured by our eyes forever. There is a fascinating dichotomy that I have experienced in European film many times over the years that is thickly strewn over the visual elements of THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND. The women in this film are lovingly shot in such a way as to pay lasting tribute to the glory of the female face and figure, but it is done without licentiousness or frivolity. Just as the Baroque and Rococo painters of long ago created paeans to the rich landscapes of the womanly form, director Patrice Leconte allows us to bask in the heady comeliness of the faces and figures of the actresses of THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND. When coupled with the deeply amorous “sex” scenes and the frank and boldly erotic voice-overs of Antoine as a man, the result is quite potent, especially when one considers there is no nudity in this movie. Typical of so many European films, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND does not have to have a lot of skin to be incredibly sexy. It is all about playing on our emotions, tugging at the heart strings and making the brow just a bit damp with perspiration after your internal temperature has climbed. THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND takes you on a ride that is just as intense as the first time you rode a bike. Even though that first dash across the street was relatively short, all of the shapes and colors of that day became etched in your brain along with the exhilarating feelings of speed and freedom that have never been equaled since. Like BETTY BLUE, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND starts one way, develops along some lines that suggest one direction for the film, it goes another way much to our satisfaction and then it ends at a place we really didn’t want to go, but that’s tough because that is life. Even though the romance of these two characters is idealized and straight out of fantasy, the pattern of their days is a mirror for what our existence often is and this is all presented in a visual form and with delightful musical accompaniment that feels like a daydream or a memory turned loose one lazy summer’s afternoon when you are tripping down the avenues of your mind and let one of those recollections free that has been deeply buried for a long time. Those moments don’t happen often, but like a fine film they are deeply intoxicating when they do.

THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND has a small but splendid set of Bonus Features. In addition, to the Theatrical Trailer, there is a 36 minute mini-feature called “Leconte on Leconte-Part 1” (Part 2 is to be found on the Severin dvd PERFUME OF YVONNE) which is a fabulous conversation with the director about his film making past and his remembrances of THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND. After that, there is a 17 minute featurette called “The Hairdresser’s Recollections” which sits down with Italian actress Anna Galiena and explores how she came to be connected with this project and her memories of THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND. Beyond doing a fabulous job bringing this film to us looking outstanding even though it isn’t “that old”, Severin Films did its usual yeoman work of creating compelling and contemplative supplements that a film-lover can just revel in and appreciate greatly. To hear a director and an actress express their deepest feeling about THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND, both of whom were emotionally attached to the making of this movie, is supremely enjoyable. Great praise must once again be given to Severin Films for their impressive efforts.

One of the few pleasant aspects of aging is the ability to look back over the years and truly understand what you have done right, what decisions were mistakes, how you should have shaped your course and what the impact of your actions has been on the days through which you pass at that moment. THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is the kind of film that all kinds of movie-goers may enjoy if they are over the age of 18, but that you will truly appreciate if you are much older than that. It is a film that speaks to the timeless allure of romance, the power of desire and the ineffable sorrow of the ending of joy. While most people picking up Severin Films discs might be expecting a Jess Franco film or something along those lines, I am impressed with the people at Severin for distributing something a little out of their usual field of dreams. One can’t always watch horror and exploitation fare and branching out can bring rewards, just as this did for me.

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