Every since he was a little boy, all Antoine (Jean Rochefort) ever wanted was to marry a hairdresser. This obsession dates back to his childhood infatuation with a buxom local hairstylist who came to a tragic end. Antoine achieves his dream when he wins the heart of a beautiful hairdresser named Mathilde (Anna Galiena), a warm-hearted woman who shares his love of life and love itself. Their shared happiness transforms their humble barbershop into an erotic idyll, where the couple make love at every given opportunity and spread a little joy into the lives of their eccentric clientele. But even domestic bliss can trouble the mind...
Connubial bliss and erotic harmony are arguably the hardest subjects to convey on film without boring your audience into a stupor. It is a sad fact that watching other people bask in their own shared happiness rarely makes for scintillating cinema unless some kind of conflict is involved. And yet The Hairdresser’s Husband completely overturns that idea, mesmerising from start to finish as one of the most poetic, amusing, touching if ultimately unsettling meditations on the nature of romantic and sexual fulfilment. Flashing back and forth between Antoine’s childhood, his courtship of Mathilde, and the present day, Patrice Leconte turns the slender story into a beautiful tone poem musing on the notion that love is as essential to our everyday lives as breathing or eating.
An eclectic filmmaker, hard to pin down aside from his interest in eccentric characters, Leconte started out as a comic book artist before making his first film, the detective parody Les Véces étaient fermés de l’interieur (1976) which also starred Jean Rochefort. Interestingly, as Leconte reveals in the enlightening documentary “Leconte on Leconte” included on the region 2 DVD, he clashed terribly with Rochefort at the time although the pair obviously patched up their differences given they have collaborated several times since. After breaking through with the hit comedy Les Bronzés (1978) (for which he contributed sequels in 1979 and 2006), Leconte has leapt from action movies such as Les Spécialistes (1986) and the Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon, Vanessa Paradis triple-whammy Un chance sur deux (1998) (which needs an English DVD release!), to offbeat thrillers like L’homme du train (2002) and the acclaimed satirical costume drama Ridicule (1996). However, beginning with the psychological thriller Monsieur Hire (1989) and continuing with The Hairdresser’s Husband, he has repeatedly explored the ephemeral nature of romantic desire which has become the abiding theme of his work, including The Scent of Yvonne (1994), The Girl on the Bridge (1999) (reuniting with Paradis for a major hit), and Rue des plaisirs (2004) starring another erotic icon, Laetitia Casta.
Leconte’s camera glides admiringly up Anna Galiena’s legs to reveal her bathed in golden sunlight, but voyeuristic aspects are far from lewd. Instead, the film pursues a very elegant, romantic eroticism, warm and nurting as the sunlight seeping through Eduardo Serra’s dreamy cinematography which captures the hazy remembrance of childhood. For while the film mimics Antoine’s fascination with Mathilde’s smile, her breasts and her legs, it never reduces her to those components and remains free of misogyny. His obsession stems from love rather than simplistic lust, underlined in the sweet moment he briefly morphs back into a child when Mathilde accepts his marriage proposal (blurted out within moments of their first meeting!) Some choose to interpret the entire film as a fantasy existing in Antoine’s mind, which makes sense on one level given the enigmatic nature of events although Leconte is quoted as preferring to think of it as a realistic story filtered through a poetic mindset.
For a film almost entirely lacking in what one might call conventional drama, this packs quite an array of funny, sad and memorable scenes (e.g. the customer abruptly slapped by his wife; Antoine charming a bratty boy with his zany Arabic dance so he will sit still for his haircut; a melancholy visit to the ageing salon owner at an old folks home; Antoine masturbating his wife while she shampoos a customer who remains unaware) and pulls off an almost casually shocking denouement that underlines the desire to remain in an eternal state of happiness can have a damaging effect on the psyche. Charming performances from Jean Rochefort (check out those dance moves) and Anna Galiena (who possesses a truly radiant smile) as two wholly delightful people.
I was bewitched by this all the way through - then there was that ending which was a cruel cop out after all that, a misguided stab at a different kind of depth than what we had been expecting. What was so bad about a happy ending for them?
4 Oct 2011
Possibly Leconte was trying to suggest the couple fell victim to their own idealized notions of eternal romance. "Life won't get any more perfect than this, so why prolong it?" That kind of headstrong romanticism can be a dangerous thing when not tempered by something more earthly. At least that's what I think is the message we're meant to take away from all this.