A middle-aged man (Jean Rochefort) recounts his youthful sexual awakening to the charms of the local hairdresser. Developing a fixation on the erotics of a women cutting men’s hair, he resolves to marry a hairdresser, and decades later, he gets his wish. His wife is the lovely Anna Galiena, and once wed, they rarely leave her little shop (indeed, they also get married there).
Writer/director Patrice Leconte is dealing with a pretty specialized fetish here, but he in the early goings, he actually comes close to making us understand Rochefort’s obsession. Leconte’s precise attention to sensual details sells us the young boy’s developing passion, but in the long run, the older Rochefort’s inclination is rather harder to take seriously, or even be that interested in. The couple’s idyllic life in the salon is obviously not mean to be seen in any realist sense, but even as a parable, it’s rather thin. Rochefort spends his days doing crossword puzzles while Galiena reads gossip magazines, gazing adoringly at her as she tends to various customers (whose eccentricities feel like the inevitable conventions of this sort of art film, even as they do provide a necessary spark of life to the very still narrative), and launching, at the drop of a hat, into improvised dances to Arab music. This last quality is supposed to be charming, but by the third number (in a short, 82-minute film), it is simply irritating. Having created a situation where, once the courtship is accomplished (a matter of mere minutes of screen time), nothing can happen, Leconte decides to wrap things up with a conclusion that is clearly supposed to be poignant, but is utterly fatuous. The film is delicately wrought, and quite lovely, but also fundamentally empty-headed. In the end, it comes across as little more than a precious presentation of a middle-aged, rather misogynist fantasy.
And yet. And yet. For all my annoyance with the film, there is still enough skill in its execution that there is something haunting about all the same.
I mentioned that the film is pretty, and so it is. The look is interesting: colours that are slightly faded, yet suffused with a sunlit glow, suggesting memory warmed and softened by nostalgia. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer perfectly captures that effect. The print is flawless, and there is no grain. The beauty of the cinematography winds up underscoring the slightness of the content, but there is no faulting Severin’s presentation.
The audio, on the other hand, is a bit of a disappointment. It’s supposed to be 2.0 surround, and this is certainly true of the menu, which features a portion of the score in an impressive, powerful mix. But the music heard in the film itself has no surround aspect at all. Neither does anything else, even during some obvious “gimme” moments as a big thunderstorm near the end of the film. The dialogue is clear, but it is a shame that the sound isn’t as lush as the image.
Leconte on Leconte Part 1: (36:15) A substantial interview with the director, ranging from the beginning of his career through to his thoughts on The Hairdresser’s Husband. He is thoughtful and articulate, and does make the film rather more interesting to think about than, in the final analysis, I think it deserves to be.
The Hairdresser’s Recollections: (17:43) Here Anna Galiena talks about her experiences making the film.
Obviously, I have mixed feelings about the film, but it is an interesting departure of sorts for Severin (watching this in tandem with their other recent release – The Sinful Dwarf – might cause the universe to implode due to the sheer perversity of the juxtaposition).