While many directors have a habit of indulging in their own fantasies in their work, such as Russ Meyer, whose long standing love affair with the female bosom has made me a life long fan, or Quentin Tarantino, whose affinity for the female foot seems to grow with each new endeavor, there are few films that solely devote over 60 minutes to tackle fetishisms outside of the realm of S&M. Even then, such films tend to cover the darker aspects of the culture rather than the satisfaction that those with such dispositions can obtain with a consenting partner. With THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND (Le mari de la coiffeuse), Patrice Leconte presents an eloquently simple take on one man's simple sexual desire. A highly rewarding erotic exploration of a unique fantasy that dominates, without regret or apology, the protagonist's mind and memory.
Forever intoxicated by his childhood barber, Antoine (Jean Rochefort, THE PHANTOM OF LIBERTY) has dreamt of marring a hairdresser since he was a young boy. As a child, Antoine would find any excuse to visit the local salon, be it a shampoo or a trim, as long as it allowed him presence with the curvy object of his affection (Anne-Marie Pisani). Days spent having his hair washed and quaffed however come to an abrupt end when one day Antoine discovers the body of his stylist, the casualty of an apparent suicide. Decades later, Antoine’s fantasy finds fruition when he happens upon the salon of Mathilde, played by the arresting Anna Galiena (BEING HUMAN). A gracious and compassionate beauty, Mathilde is everything Antoine has longed for since the untimely passing of his schoolboy crush. Believing that he has found true bliss in Mathilde, Antoine asks for her hand in marriage despite having only meeting her minutes earlier. Initially hesitant, Mathilde agrees and the two are married in the salon that they will forever call their home. Sharing in the shop's daily duties and with each other, Antoine takes full advantage of his new occupational surrounding to quench his unique sexual tastes. Totally accepting of each other, the happy couple could not be more content, but Mathilde’s desire to be everything to Antoine leads to a self-sacrificing ending that is left open for debate.
Proving that a minimalist plot, if one at all, can be just as effective as a complicated narrative, THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND is a effortless and highly enjoyable arthouse outing. Entertaining and erotic, HUSBAND skirts by such negative connotations by thankfully being devoid of any pretentious dialogue or artsy farsty meditations, instead relying on atmosphere and character to drive the story forward. Told from Antoine’s point of view, the picture alternates from tender, present day moments with his wife, to childhood recollections of visits with the plump hairstylist that illustrate his particular physical longings without shoving them in your face. Jean Rochefort shines as the film's lead who despite a noticeable difference in age, acts every bit as young, if not younger than his bride. Prone to breaking out into a Middle Eastern dance at the drop of a hat, Rochefort fills Antoine with a love of life that is infectious and envious, and while it is clear that his sexual tastes are incredibly specific, they are never played for anything less than natural (at least to him) and whole heartily accepted by Mathilde. Antoine doesn’t suffer from trichophilia (someone who is sexually aroused by human hair) or any other fetish terminology so strange it seems bizarre that someone took the time to give it a name. He just knows what he wants and doesn’t see why he should settle for anything less. The way in which Antoine’s sexual needs are approached by Patrice Leconte are equally rewarding, with all of Antoine's desires made abundantly clear by the way in which Mathilde is both framed and lit.
Anna Galiena is nothing short of perfection as Mathilde, the object of Antoine's fetishistic desire. She exudes the sexual daring of a cougar, balanced with the comforting aura of a MILF. With little more than a passing glance, she inspires lust, trust and a sense of playfulness that would appeal to any man. While cleavage abounds, there is a noticeable restraint in the film's use of nudity that skillfully works in its favor, maintaining the atmosphere of a boyish fantasy. I would liken the tone to another such fetishistic film, Bigas Luna’s La teta i la lluna, aka THE TIT AND THE MOON, staring an arresting, and frequently topless Mathilda May. In TIT, a young boy longs to have a breast to call his own when the arrival of his new brother threatens to take his mother's milk and affection away from him permanently. The manner in each film is light, with women in general being placed on a pedestal as objects of both mystery and grace. Coincidentally, Anna would follow HUSBAND with JAMON, JAMON, also directed by Bigas Luna.
Previously available on VHS and released on DVD in the UK as early as 2000 by Tartan Video, Severin momentarily steps away from perverted midgets and the varied travels of Emanuelle to release HUSBAND in a dazzling anamorphic widescreen presentation that maintains the film's original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The picture is dominated by a luminous mist that turns the colors down just a notch while at that same time bathing them in faraway glow, adding to the impression that all on display is both fantasy and memory. The spotless transfer features little, if any grain and barely a hint of debris. Presented in its original French language, the Dolby Surround stereo track sounds satisfactory and is accompanied by optional English subtitles that flow naturally and are devoid of error.
Extras include “Leconte on Leconte Part 1”, a 36-minute interview with director Patrice Leconte. Recalling his beginnings in the French film industry, the interview follows Patrice and his filmography from his early comedies with the Splendid theater group (LES BRONZES, LES BRONZES FONT DU SKI) to his numerous collaborations with Jean Rochefort, despite an initial project that left the actor less than impressed with Leconte’s style. Part two of the “Leconte on Leconte” interview is scheduled to appear on Severin’s other Leconte release, THE PERFUME OF YVONNE (Le parfum d'Yvonne). “The Hairdresser’s Recollections” features star Anna Galiena in a 17-minute sit down interview, a few years older but still eye-catching. Anna recalls her wishfully daydreaming of getting a chance to act for Patrice Leconte after the release of MONSIEUR HIRE and the tearful audition that transpired where her flight of fancy became a reality. The film's original theatrical trailer rounds out another impressive release and unexpected treat from Severin Films. (Jason McElreath)
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