The Hairdresser's Husband
(Le Mari de la Coiffeuse) (1990)
Directed by Patrice Leconte

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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When Antoine was a boy he was infatuated with the woman who cut his hair and wanted to marry a hairdresser when he grew up. Years later, having reached middle-age, Antoine (Jean Rochefort) happens upon the barbershop owned by Mathilde (Anna Galiena), goes in, and, while she is cutting his hair, quickly proposes to her. When she agrees, on his second visit to her shop, the two tell one another their names, get married, and settle into a blissful life together, oblivious to the world around them.

Patrice Leconte's The Hairdresser's Husband is a joyous and melancholy delight. The director has managed to arouse a real sense of the bliss, the sadness, and the eccentricities of love and has, consequently, crafted a wonderfully engaging film.

Instead of meandering through the various trivialities of his characters' existences, Leconte focuses very narrowly on Antoine and Mathilde's romance. By doing so, he so enthrals the viewer that he draws him into that couple's world and submerges him in the bliss and contentment they share. In fact, the director brings out the absolute happiness, the self-sufficient perfection, of being in love for nearly the whole of the duration of his movie. The Hairdresser's Husband really is a joyous, wonderfully intoxicating poem to romantic love that is bound to charm any person of sensitivity.

Even though, in the end, the movie arouses a poignant sense of melancholy, this sadness is tempered with a touching trace of happiness so that the viewer does not despair, but instead looks back wistfully at all that came before and smiles despite his sorrow. He is made aware that love, like all things, may be ephemeral, but, even though it fades or its object is lost, the marvel of the experience of loving and of being loved loses none of its of its worth as a consequence. The happiness Antoine and Mathilde share is, if anything, made rarer and more magical by its very transience.

While The Hairdresser's Husband is never a visually stunning or narratively complex film, it really needs to be neither. Leconte tells the viewer a tale that is made more affecting by its simplicity. By limiting the world with which the viewer is presented to the constricted reality inhabited by Mathilde and Antoine, the director allows the viewer to feel each of the lovers' joyous obsession with the other. The moviegoer thus sees how Mathilde's world is completed merely by the presence of Antoine and how his world is completed merely by her. With the exception of a few scenes depicting Antoine's childhood, almost the whole of the movie is set either in Mathilde's barbershop or in the streets just outside of it. The viewer does not, however, miss some wider world beyond this tiny place. In fact, on the few occasions that the protagonists venture beyond it, he and they alike are eager for them to return to their own little kingdom. After all, what need have persons who are completely in love of some universe beyond themselves? The rest is merely an intrusion.

As skilled as is Leconte's evocation of his characters' love, he could not have brought it out without his actors. Thankfully, the movie is made especially enjoyable by the work of its two leads. Anna Galiena lends such simplicity and such a sense of mysterious depth, of some unknown profundity of spirit, to Mathilde that the viewer is quickly captivated by her and accepts her in the absolute, beautifully blind, and all seeing way Antoine does. As appealing as is the actress' performance in the film, I must say, however, that Jean Rochefort gives what must surely be one of the most truly intoxicating performances I have ever seen. He infuses Antoine with so much charisma and such a marvellous exuberance that he has brought to life one of the most genuinely likeable characters I have encountered in any film. From his expressions of his consuming, passionate love for Mathilde to his sweetly gawky attempts to dance to records of the Arabic music which is, apparently, his only interest other than her, he is not only wonderfully fun to watch but also consistently charming.

Even though Antoine does not emerge as a complex individual, the viewer is told everything about the man that is required for him to be able to engage with the character. He sees how Antoine's obsession with hairdressers began, and, having involved himself with the character, he does not condemn that interest as aberrant or silly. Instead, he understands that, just as some men prefer persons with a certain hair color, of a given gender, of a particular nationality, or whatever the case may be, Antoine prefers women who are hairdressers. Having so accepted this interest, the moviegoer is able to participate in it and feel the character's delight and excitement both when he meets Mathilde and through the course of his relationship with her. He is, simply, intoxicated by the story of love that is being told to him.

I cannot, I admit, honestly say that The Hairdresser's Husband is a great film, but it is such a delightful, charming work, and so evocative of the beauties and joys of love, that the viewer is certain to be enthralled by the experience of watching it.

Review by Keith Allen

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