Severin Films // 1990 // 82 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge William Lee // April 16th, 2009
Antoine's Father: "And you? What do you want to be in life?"
Antoine, 12: "I want to marry a hairdresser."
French director Patrice Leconte (Ridicule) has demonstrated his versatility by working in mainstream comedies, crime movies and period drama. On this side of the pond, he is best known for his unusual relationship stories (Girl on the Bridge, Intimate Strangers). Leconte first received international attention for the dark 1989 crime drama Monsieur Hire. His follow up effort, The Hairdresser's Husband, was a sunny and sensual romance. Arriving on Region 1 DVD for the first time, courtesy of Severin Films, Leconte's tale of obsessive desire still casts a haunting and sexy spell.
Antoine (Jean Rochefort, Tell No One) has dreamed of marrying a hairdresser since he was a teenager. This sexual obsession goes unfulfilled until he meets and marries Mathilde (Anna Galiena, Virgin Territory). They live an insular life together -- they have no friends and they almost never leave the hair salon -- but they're impossibly happy. Their perfect romance seems too good to be true.
At its basic level, The Hairdresser's Husband is a fetish movie. The relationship between Antoine and Mathilde meets a very specific need for each of them. It's made pretty clear with the aid of a few flashbacks that Antoine has a sexual fixation from his adolescence. In Mathilde's case, it's less clear what motivates her but she definitely has found the ideal mate in her much-older husband. It is no small feat that Leconte's direction turns this story of a particularly selfish love affair into a universal romantic fantasy. Having found each other, Antoine and Mathilde are content to isolate themselves from the outside world. The occasional customer to the salon just reaffirms their decision to do their own thing. They want to live for the moment in a constant state of sensual bliss. They don't need to consider the "for better or worse" scenarios because what they currently have is perfect. Their state of mind is perhaps the purest form of romantic love possible.
Voyeurism was a central theme of Leconte's previous movie, Monsieur Hire, and there is an element of that here as well though the creepy spying done by that movie's protagonist has been traded for sun-drenched fantasy. This is Antoine's story -- from his perspective more than a few times -- and the camera spends a lot of time staring at the object of his obsession. Indeed, the camera renders Mathilde as the object of male fantasy, but it's a gaze that's desirous without being lewd. Languorous camera pans, coupled with the entrancing music by Michael Nyman, become hypnotic appreciations of Mathilde's beautiful form. This is how Antoine sees the woman of his dreams and she is a vision of feminine perfection.
Jean Rochefort deserves credit for instilling so much charm and dignity into a character that could have come off simply as a dirty old man. It's clear that Antoine is lonely, but not entirely unhappy, until he spots Mathilde. Then, reinvigorated by adolescent lust, he practically becomes a kid again. Rochefort also shows off some pretty energetic dance moves that really express his giddy love of life in the here and now.
Anna Galiena was a relatively unknown Italian actress when she was cast in the important role of the hairdresser. When she looks into the camera, returning Antoine's loving stare, there is no doubt that she is the perfect Mathilde. Galiena is beautiful but she brings more to her character than just her looks. There's a quality behind her eyes and in her movements that is deeply captivating. You wish to discover what she's thinking and until that mystery is solved, you are content to watch her spellbound. She's also a very convincing coiffeuse, which is no small detail in a movie like this.
The dreamy quality of this romantic fantasy is nicely preserved in a bright and clean image transfer on this DVD. The picture is deliberately bright, often overexposing the backgrounds and bathing the foreground in a sunny glow. Still, there's a satisfying amount of detail throughout the frame even though the image is slightly soft. That softness isn't distracting and actually contributes to the almost unreal atmosphere of the movie. Grain is more visible in darker scenes and there are just a handful of instances where dust pops up on the screen but for the most part, the picture is free of physical debris. During the opening and closing credits a very slight jitter in the frame is noticeable.
The packaging promises a Dolby 2.0 stereo mix, but it sounds a lot like mono audio. That isn't a big deal though since the on-screen action doesn't demand a complex soundtrack. The movie is fairly quiet a lot of the time and when it's not, the music and dialogue are clear and strong enough.
Severin Films has included a nice pair of featurettes on this DVD that allow two of the creators to reflect on their work after many years. "Leconte on Leconte Part 1" is a 36-minute excerpt from a lengthy interview with the director. Both longtime fans and viewers just discovering his work will appreciate Leconte's recounting of the development of his career from working as a comic book artist to writing and directing movies. Leconte speaks quite plainly about unsuccessful efforts and his initially rough professional relationship with Rochefort. It's a very informative overview of his filmography, especially for North American audiences that have had limited to no access to Leconte's earliest works. He also offers a bit of analysis for The Hairdresser's Husband and talks about his casting decisions and methodology. This is a really good interview with a thoughtful and talented filmmaker. The interview is in French with English subtitles.
The second featurette, "The Hairdresser's Recollections," is a newly recorded 17-minute interview with Anna Galiena conducted in English (one of her four fluent languages). She talks about the production and working with Leconte to add dimension to her character. It's a joy to hear her thoughts on the movie with almost 20 years of hindsight. The French theatrical trailer rounds out the supplements.
The Hairdresser's Husband is one of the most memorable movies from a director who never fails to find an interesting angle on relationships. It's a humorous and haunting romance told with mesmerizing visual style and memorable performances. Severin gives this highbrow fetish movie a decent technical treatment plus a pair of retrospective interviews that are truly worth your time.
If romance is wrong, then this disc is guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Severin Films
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 82 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R