'Hairdresser' An Arthouse Delight: Film Review

Directed by: Patrice Leconte, Runtime: 82 minutes
Grade: B

Antoine (Jean Rochefort), our lead character in The Hairdresser's Husband (Le Mari de la Coiffeuse), has a fetish for large-breasted women that want to take his money and cut off his hair. Taken in the wrong context, some might see that as a phobia instead of a desire. Instead, I think you'd find that many more guys share a similar fondness to Antoine's situation, a desire built from a young boy's perversely entrancing summer filled with repeat visits to a female-owned barber shop. It's that rousing hunger, an acute sense of eroticism, that gives The Hairdresser's Husband both its undeniable provocativeness and its moments of insightful charm.

We follow Antoine (Jean Rochefort), now a grown man, as he reflects back on his childhood, interconnecting his budding desire with the decisions that led him to this point. What started as a fetish quickly became his identifier; some are heterosexual and some are homosexual, but Antoine is a feminine barber-sexual, desiring nothing more from his life than to find a beautiful hairdresser to share his life with. His search remained unsuccessful until he stumbled upon Mathilde (Anna Galiena), the sole proprietor of a little men-only salon located on a quaint French street. With his subtly quirky charm fueling his leap of faith, he and Mathilde begin a deep and sensual relationship that separates them from the rest of the world.

Since we're allowed to see that Antoine and Mathilde are romantically involved at the beginning of the story, The Hairdresser's Husband becomes a lighthearted and self-cautious reflection on the events from both Antoine's past and the present. He shows us how his passion led him to Mathilde's loving arms, viscerally taking us through the process of how the massaging fingertips of the hairdresser from his youth ignite the eroticism present in his hunt. He scoops up tidbits from his relationship with his family and drops them in front of us, letting us see how Antoine became the man that wanted nothing more than to live out his days with a woman like Mathilde. Composed in sepia-stained flashes, a sense of nostalgia fills every frame of the film that gives it a texture similar to a concentrated stream of consciousness from Antoine's memory.

The Hairdresser's Husband wears its manner as a modern European arthouse film with a lot of confidence, but in a soft and palatable way. From its conversational center that focuses on the pensiveness of the speakers instead of the content, to the lackadaisical demeanor that aims to titillate with a distinctively lush passion instead of dazzle with its conflicts, it's at times a little too walled-off from convention. While watching, I couldn't quite shrug off the feeling that Patrice Leconte knew he was making an artsy picture -- and wanted to boost up this quality as much as he could. It works in many marvelous scenes, such as a wonderful point where Antoine and Mathilde ransack their salon for something "unique" to drink in the wee hours of the morning. Others seem pressed into stretching out their content into a piece of art, like an artist trying to pull a length of resilient canvas to the corners of a wooden frame.

Its memory-esque cinematography and vastly likable characters manage to surmount this forgivable self-indulgence and give The Hairdresser's Husband a playfully indulgent aura. This is Antoine's story, and it takes a great amount of bittersweet joy in telling it. Highlighted by a fine pairing of old and young actors to portray Antoine, namely a concentrated turn from Jean Rochefort with a splash of quirk, it's near impossible not to empathize with either the quirky character or the objects of his (their) affection. Mathilde's charm, however, is the real allure to its passion. Anna Galiena gives a succulent and understated performance as the hairdresser, one that speaks volumes in saying very little. She'd likely be the toast among the men in town, transforming them all into Antoine-like fawners, if it weren't for her husband's hovering presence -- one that she shares no disappointment in having so close to her.

As each scene is photographed amid sun-drenched settings unquestionably filled with stirring warmth, it's easy to get wrapped up in the easygoing zeal behind their relationship. It takes on an aesthetic feel similar to the coffee shop in Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amelie, one where the strangers that come and go make impressions on Antoine and Mathilde's life without ever digging deeper than surface level into the narrative. Since its several years Amelie's senior, it's likely that Jeunet may have pulled some influence from its execution while injecting more of his quirky sense of humor to the mix. They both speak to the cosmos of love, but in different ways -- Amelie to the unavoidable gravity between two souls, The Hairdresser's Husband to the inability to stray once they've found it.

There's a stark sense of eroticism and passion that heaves at the center of The Hairdresser's Husband, one that intermittently takes the breath away. Happiness, sexual satisfaction, and experimentation become driving factors in Antoine and Mathilde's life, though it spares us the graphic details and only gives us shots of their heartfelt, starry-eyed foreplay. And it's funny -- almost the opposite of dry humor, though that same stiff compulsion to laugh is there. But it's not out to make us laugh. Like Antoine's goofy dancing that he does to entertain a boy in Mathilde's salon, it simply brings a smile to our faces without trying to do more beyond its delightful means.

Even as it takes a somewhat foreseeable turn towards bleakness, there's still a sense of delight in its unswerving desire to embrace life to the fullest. The Hairdresser's Husband is simply a pleasurable time in the world of arthouse cinema, one that relishes in opening a window into a different style of romance that, though it might differ from our own, showcases a "dream come true" in Antoine's eyes. More than that, it takes a step back and allows us to absorb the things they enjoy, things that we might take for granted in our own domestic lives. Though bittersweet and highly docile, Patrice Leconte's picture is a satisfying endeavor of the heart.


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