The Hairdresser’s Husband is a love story, but don’t expect the type of conventions you’d expect in a formulaic Hollywood romance. In the hands of French Cinema, romance can involve surrealism and unpredictable turns, and this is exactly what you get here. It has been said that director Patrice Leconte may be the filmmaker with the biggest impact on American art houses. This is a strong example for why that might be.
- Director: Patrice Leconte
- Writer: Claude Klotz, Patrice Leconte
- Cast: Jean Rochefort, Anna Galiena, Roland Bertin
Much to his father’s disapproval, Antoine wants to marry a hairdresser when he grows up. Having become sexually aroused by a female hairdresser at the age of 12, Antoine (Jean Rochefort) appears to lack ambition towards anything else in his life. When the local hairdresser/his infatuation commits suicide, it only makes his desire stronger. As an adult, he fulfills his goal and marries a hairdresser, Mathilde (Anna Galiena). Antoine proposes to Mathilde after visiting her barber shop just once. They quickly elope, and we never see them do much of anything else other than happily co-exist. But this is no happily-ever-after ending. As Mathilde becomes fully aware that their fantastical romance cannot last forever, Mathilde takes an expected jump when she decides that the possibility of Antoine not loving her someday is unbearable.
From start to finish the voice-over narrative is engaging and effective, revealing Antoine’s innermost fantasies and establishing a character driven more by feelings than by rationale. Antoine’s sexual awakening as a young teen is not usually given this type of casual and light-hearted tone in other films, and the film is erotic without ever getting smutty. Instead, Antoine’s desires are endearing and definitely engaging. Anna Galiena is well cast as the object of fantastical desires, and her performance is believable despite unbelievable circumstances.
Despite being adept at creating a sense of desire throughout the film, Leconte isn’t working with enough substance to propel this film into greatness. Antoine has a suspiciously drawn-out dance number on a film, which means there’s padding in a film that’s only 82 minutes long. This would have made a great 30 minute short film., and without being privy to voice-overs for other characters, the motivations often feel plot-driven. The end comes as a shocking revelation, and while it is refreshing, it feels too big for this film.
Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:
I share some of your basic sentiments about this film. I agree that it feels as warm as a hug and as fanciful as a dream. Much like in a fairy tale, real life hardly seems to be a factor here. As you point out, “we never see them eat. We never see them sleep. We know they live in a room above the shop, but we don’t see it.” However, despite a story of fairytale proportions, when Antoine plays music and dances to it, I do feel the film should provide reasons for these choices. Otherwise, how can we fully understand Antoine’s actions? Mr. Ebert, your review spends about 4 paragraphs talking about Patrice Leconte’s other films and this strikes me like a double-edged sword. On one hand, it adds to my feeling that while this is an enjoyable and refreshing experience, there isn’t much to say about the subject matter of this film. On the other hand, what you share about Leconte is an example of how your readers learn a great deal from your reviews, as they provides interesting background and it build intrigue to discover other films. As for the ending of this film, I can’t say it’s a happy ending, but it is definitely one that feels as though it could be perceived as one. That kind of duality is fine by me.
Good, Bad or Great Movie: GOOD
Do you like ? Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?
Next week’s review: Departures
Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of approximately 354 films. Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response. By taking on Patrice Leconte’s The Hairdresser’s Husband this week, he now has 286 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.