The Hairdresser’s Husband

The Hairdresser’s Husband (Patrice Leconte, 1990)

 aka Le mari de la coiffeuse

In THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND, Jean Rochefort (MY MOTHER’S CASTLE) plays Antoine, an old man with a fetish for getting his hair cut due to a pubescent crush he had on another hairdresser as a child (humorous flashbacks interspersed throughout show Antoine going for a haircut every chance he gets). As an adult, he becomes infatuated (or obsessed) with gorgeous hairdresser Mathilde (Anna Galiena of Tinto Brass’ SENSO 45). Although Antoine’s father has drilled into him that “women are like crosswords; the harder to get, the sweeter they are,” Mathilde does not require much pursuing to get her to wed Antoine. They marry in the salon (Mathilde even gives a customer a shave during the festivities). Antoine spends his days ogling his wife while she works in the salon and Mathilde seems to get as much pleasure out of being intensely watched while serving a handful of quirky customers (a man who decided to shave off his beard because he is told it makes him look sad discovers that he still looks sad without it). Antoine even pleasures Mathilde while she is shampooing a customer. Antoine also has a fetish for Arabic music (the film opens with the child Antoine dancing the width of the scope frame with a towel wrapped around his head to a Middle Eastern tune on a record player) which provides the couple with a sort of exhibitionistic reversal as Antoine’s dances to both amuse and arouse Mathilde. Things go swimmingly until Mathilde – who has been visiting the retired hairdresser Isadore (Maurice Chevit) who gave her his shop in a rest home – starts to realize that her clients are getting older and she grows fearful of the time when Antoine will stop loving her whereupon things take a tragic turn.

Despite its reputation, Leconte’s film is nowhere near as outrageous as the “sex is funny” art films of the likes of Bigas Luna, Pedro Almadovar, or the classy erotica of Tinto Brass. Indeed, there is very little actual nudity in the film. Like those films though, it embodies that effortless sensuality that feels equally organic in a European comedy, thriller, or tragic love story (a la BETTY BLUE). As far as comedy, there are no sight gags (unless you count a pair of woollen swimming trunks with cherry pom-poms) but there are some lines delivered in an understated manner (mostly from Rochefort) that nevertheless provoke laughter (when a customer’s irate wife comes in and slaps him, he explains “She never misses. She used to play table tennis. We still have the cups.”) and Roland Bertin is funny as Antoine’s father in the flashbacks (when Antoine tells his father he wants to marry a hairdresser when he grows up, his father slaps him and then asks his wife and other son why he did it).

There are also some moments that start out comically but become heartbreaking (for instance, the child Antoine’s peaking through the shop window at the exposed thighs of the seemingly asleep hairdresser only to discover that she is dead). Mathilde’s musings at the various indications of encroaching infirmity in some of her regular customers (like the folds of a customer’s jacket indicating stooping) Rochefort (so good in Leconte’s excellent, underrated MAN ON THE TRAIN) is both funny and believable. When first seen, Antoine looks frail and austere but he appears to become more spry and youthful as his relationship with Mathilde progresses (including a standout dance performance at their intimate wedding to her amusement and their guests’ bewilderment). Galiena (in a role that is quite a contrast to her saucy villainess in Bigas Luna’s JAMON JAMON) is sweet and affecting as well as sensual without losing her skirt. It goes without saying that Serra’s cinematography is stunning whether presenting panoramic seaside views or the expanse of the salon set lit either by warm sunlight or nourish blue and bottomless blacks. Anamorphic distortion and even some subtle matte-box vignetting is apparent during the seaside flashbacks but this may be an aesthetic choice as the film does not seem technically under-equipped elsewhere. Nyman (who also scored Leconte’s MONSIEUR HIRE but is probably most well known for his score for Jane Campion’s THE PIANO) proves once again here that he is criminally underrated outside of the art film genre.

According to Severin’s press release, THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is the second of Leconte’s “Obsession Trilogy” starting with the Simenon adaptation MONSIEUR HIRE (currently being mistreated on R1 DVD by Kino and available in a reportedly better transfer from Second Sight in the UK – the French disc is unsubtitled) and preceding Severin’s other upcoming Leconte release LE PARFUM D’YVONNE (unreleased theatrically or on tape previously in the US but available subtitled from Second Sight; the French disc is not subtitled). Severin’s press materials tout this as being the first ever release on DVD in America though the film was previously issued on tape by Columbia/Tri Star which apparently has fetched “upwards of $75 for used VHS copies on Amazon.” For overseas viewers, Severin’s disc is not the film’s digital debut. Gaumont’s OOP French R2 disc sported an anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer with English subtitles (for the feature only) along with a 50 minute interview with director Laconte and one of 11 minutes with cinematographer Serra (WINGS OF THE DOVE and Chabrol’s most recent films starting with THE SWINDLE [1997]) and the short silent film “Le Batteur de Bolero” which was subsequently reissued by sell-through label DVDY (this is the version floating around eBay France at the moment sometimes paired with DVDY’s reissue of the English-friendly Gaumont release of Andrzej Zulawski’s underappreciated LA FIDELITE for roughly $20). The film was released twice in the UK with subtitles but the Tartan disc was non-anamorphic (and cropped to about 2.20:1) while the more recent Second Sight disc is also non-anamorphic and further cropped to 1.66:1 or thereabouts!

I have not seen any of those releases but Severin’s DVD is reportedly a new transfer. The disc is letterboxed at 2.35:1 with 16:9 enhancement. The image is progressive and the 81:21 running time is more than 3 minutes longer than the reported PAL approximate running time of 78 minutes so it has been transferred at film speed. If I’m not mistaken, it also seems to be Severin’s first dual-layer disc although the film itself is only 4.28 GB which makes me wonder if they planned a single-layer release until they added the two interviews could have been encoded at lower bitrates (the Laconte interview runs 36 minutes but is almost 2 GB). While it would have been nice for Severin to have done a dual-layer encode of the 82 minute film (an 82 minute film at full bitrate would be 5.83 GB), the single-layer-sized transfer is gorgeous (only some brief fine detail banding is evident in Galiena’s wedding veil). Although the disc cover sports a Dolby Surround logo and says the film is in stereo, the film is in mono but is quite bold with special emphasis on Michael Nyman’s (THE PIANO) score and the Arabian music heard throughout the film.

The 36 minute interview with Patrice Leconte is the first section of a two-parter (the second is on the upcoming disc of YVONNE’S PERFUME). A former comic book artist, Leconte made several short films before his first film with Rochefort. The piece is more of a career overview as the title ‘Leconte on Leconte Part 1’ suggests. Actress Anna Galiena is interviewed in the 17 minute ‘The Hairdresser’s Recollections’. She speaks in English and mentions that she had just finished working on Chabrol’s QUIET DAYS IN CLICHY and wanted to work with Leconte after seeing MONSIEUR HIRE (the clips in the interview have English subtitles in a different font than those seen in the film). She says that she believed Ornella Muti would get the role instead of her. The film’s theatrical trailer (cropped to anamorphic 1.85:1) rounds out the extras.

Severin’s release – especially in the states where it didn’t seem to soar in popularity until its tape release went out of print – is a respectful presentation of an acclaimed though neglected art film (nominated for 7 César Awards) which they likely chose for its erotic reputation (though I’m very happy they did and cannot wait to see LE PARFUM D’YVONNE). Then again, perhaps we should not be surprised given their presentations of more explicit fare like Borowczyk’s IMMORAL WOMEN, the anthology PRIVATE COLLECTIONS, and Franco’s classy-despite-expectations SEXUAL STORY OF O: perhaps Severin might seek out some of Bigas Luna or Eloy de la Iglesia, next. Although THE HAIRDRESSER’S HUSBAND is not a very explicit piece of erotic cinema, viewers who pass on this film (and this soon-to-be-readily-available release) are surely missing out.

(Eric Cotenas)