Severin Films is noted for releasing deluxe DVD editions of cult European horror and sexploitation films such as the Emmanuelle movies and the recently-reviewed Sinful Dwarf. Thus, when I received a screener from Severin of their newly released French import The Hairdresser's Husband (Le mari de la coiffeuse), my natural inclination was to assume that this, too, had a tinge of the grotesque to it. However, the first clues that this would not be the kind of film generally appreciated by overweight, middle-aged men who live in their mother's basements was the fact that the DVD sleeve boasted a rave from Roger Ebert and the notation that the 1990 film was nominated for 7 Cesar Awards (the French equivilent of the Oscars) - a legacy that somehow escaped The Sinful Dwarf. I watched the film without even reading the synopsis and was quickly hypnotized by this strange, but fascinating love story. There is nary a murder or ill-tempered dwarf in sight, but you are never certain until the last frame what direction the story might move in. The film centers on Antoine (Jean Rochefort), a rather mundane middle-aged man who lives a relatively non-descript life. He reflects back on his childhood and his first love: the local hairdresser who would cut his hair. She was a plump, buxom woman who served as little Antoine's first sexual obsession. He became obsessed with her breasts and would use every available opportunity to get a haircut- much to his mother's bewilderment. It was from these early encounters that Antoine decided he had but one goal in life: to marry a hairdresser. The story shifts to the recent past, as Antoine recalls how he managed to fulfill his dream by marrying a beautiful, much younger woman who ran a hair salon.
The mating ritual is bizarre, to say the least. Upon getting his first haircut in her shop, Antoine asks the woman, with whom he has barely conversed, to marry him. To his amazement, she agrees. They live a storybook life. Antoine relates that neither he nor his beautiful bride Mathilde (Anna Galiena) require the company of others. Aside from some casual acquaintances, they do not desire other friends as they literally live on love. Completely compatible, the pair never squabble and Mathilde displays the adoration for her husband that one would hardly expect for a homely, aging man. To Antoine's delight, Mathilde is also has a relentless sex drive. She's always in the mood and the two delight in making love right on the floor of the small hair salon- the passersby be damned. When they become frisky late one night, they discover they are out of liquor- and Antoine concocts makeshift cocktails made from the various colognes in the shop. The plot weaves back and forth through time and the viewer is never certain what the outcome of all this will be. Ultimately, the film comes to a conclusion that is as shocking as it is abrupt. Getting there, however, is all the fun.
Director Patrice Leconte makes every frame of this lyrical film look like a painting. The nuances he provides are impossible to justice to by simply describing them. Like any work of art, they must be seen to be appreciated. The Hairdresser's Husband is a film full of surprises, gentle humor, wonderful characters and exquisite dialogue. (The DVD presents the movie in French with English sub-titles). The greatest praise must go to Jean Rochefort, who gives a brilliant performance as the quirky but lovable Antoine. His young bride is played with wonderful understatement by Anna Galiena, and she exudes smoldering sexuality without ever doffing any of her clothes. (Director Leconte wanted to show one could make an erotic film without delving into nudity. Nonetheless, they are smoldering.). Every aspect of this modern fairy tale is memorable - especially the last sequence, of which nothing can be told without giving away vital plot information.
The DVD contains an extended interview with Patrice Leconte in which he discusses all aspects of his career, and provides some interesting insights into this film. There also an exclusive interview done for the Severin release in which Anna Galiena amusingly recalls her memories of the film and how awkard she felt preforming certain scenes. There is also an original trailer.
Kudos to Severin Films for making this title available to American audiences - and for proving the company doesn't live by sinful dwarfs alone.