The Hairdresser's Husband (1990)

a.k.a. - Le mari de la coiffeuse

Jean Rochefort stars in an achingly beautiful romantic tale directed by Patrice Leconte. Severin USA R1 DVD.

The Film

Antoine (Jean Rochefort) recalls his obsession as a young boy with a local hairdresser - the delicate caress of her hands on his head and of her bosom on his face as she washed his hair giving him an awakening into adulthood. Years later he gets his haircut in a small hairdressers shop and immediately falls in love with Mathilde who runs the place - he asks her to marry him and she agrees, spending the next ten years in a simple happiness together.

Co-written by director Patrice Leconte, the film has a pretty simple love story as its basis - a man has a crush on his hairdresser as a boy and later marries another hairdresser - and perhaps for an Anglo-American production, this is as far as the story would go, but since this is a French film, things are rather different and the whole production seems to flow with the natural surrealism and light humour that is a trademark of French cinema. There is not a hint of a conventional romantic story in the relationship between Antoine and Mathilde, we never see any "dating", any discussion of Antoine's past or them really addressing any normal situations (given the same story framework, an Anglo-American film would doubtless have put a focus on the practicalities of running a hairdresser shop) - instead the bulk of the film just consists of the time that they spend together.

Somehow, despite never really going anywhere during these scenes, the film never drags or even seems slowly paced, instead it just seems to flow around the joy of these characters and their happiness together - time itself seems immaterial and we learn at one point that ten years have passed, without any obvious jumps. There is some wonderful dialogue during these sequences from the other characters who appear in the shop, but the story never moves to a sub-plot and the focus remains entirely on Antoine and Mathilde. The only apparent exception is the slight detour the film takes to show a scene of the couple visiting Ambroise, the shop's former owner, in a retirement home - but this sequence is key to the direction the story takes in the final quarter as the timeless nature fades away. The whole film leads towards the ending and it is a simply perfect conclusion to what has gone before, with a poetic beauty and genuine emotion unmatched by any other film.

Director Patrice Leconte lends his adept style to this production and the film as a whole looks beautiful - his shots of Mathilde have a wonderfully soft and dreamlike nature. One of the best sequences takes the camera as the young Antoine's eyes and rove over the body of his hairdresser, peering between the folds of her outfit to admire her breasts. Curiously, despite the underlying eroticism and numerous sexual scenes, there is no actual 'nudity' in the film and only one real sex scene - probably a surprise for some considering its European origins - but completely appropriate for the story. An occasional score by Michael Nyman gives the film a very strong backing.

Veteran of French cinema Jean Rochefort takes the lead role and it is hard to imagine anyone being better suited to it - without words he is able to express an incredibe array of emotions, particularly during the film's final scenes. More importantly though, for the role, he is happy to dance away absurdly to the Arabic music that his character loves. Italian actress Anna Galiena has a wonderfully ageless beauty and is perfectly cast. The only other major member of the cast is Henry Hocking who plays the young Antoine and gives a very fine performance.

To a viewer brought up on the formulaic romances of Anglo-America cinema, The Hairdresser's Husband is a real gem - drifting through a romantic tale with doses of surrealism, comedy and sadness, it offers a poetic beauty that is unmatched - a perfect film for watching as a couple. For fans of French and arthouse cinema, this is a typically strong film from a typically strong director and definitely worth seeing, a great place to start exploring the world of Patrice Leconte. Highly recommended.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? Jean Rochefort - a very popular veteran French actor who won Best Actor CÚsar for Le crabe-Tambour (1977)
Directed by anyone interesting? Patrice Leconte - a hard working French director, popular in art-house circles worldwide. His other credits include the beautiful Le parfum d'Yvonne (1994) and BAFTA award winning Ridicule (1996)
Any gore or violence? None
Any sex or nudity? Several scenes with sexual content but no actual nudity.
Who is it for? Certainly one for all art-house fans and a good one for anyone wanting a romantic film to watch as a couple who has become tired of the formulaic Hollywood outings.

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print quality generally very good with strong colours and detail. A few minor specks.
Audio French stereo - sounds good.
Subtitles English - translate the French, no problems.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Leconte on Leconte: Part 1 - an interview with the director as his discusses this film and some of his other projects. French with English subtitles. (35 minutes) [part 2 is contained on Severin's Perfume of Yvonne DVD]
  • Interview with Anna Galiena, discusses this film and what went into making it - lots of interesting information. In English. (17 minutes)
  • Original theatrical trailer - French language with optional English subtitles.
Region Region 1 (USA, North America) - NTSC
Other regions? Released in the UK by Second Sight as part of a six film Patrice Leconte boxset and includes the full Leconte on Leconte interview and an early Leconte short film La famille heureuse (1973) [note: the earlier single disc UK release is badly cropped]. Available in France in widescreen with a different interview with Leconte, an interview with cinematographer Eduardo Serra and a short film by Leconte - Le batteur du bolÚro - however aside from the film, none of the features are subtitled in English. Picture quality is reportedly poor.
Cuts? Believed to be fully uncut. French language print.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th April 2009.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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