Synopsis: In this acclaimed masterpiece from Oscar nominated writer/director Patrice Leconte (Ridicule, The Perfume Of Yvonne), legendary French actor Jean Rochefort (Man On The Train) stars as an older man whose childhood sexual obsession with a local hairdresser leads him one day to the shop of beautiful young Mathilde (Anna Galiena from Jamon, Jamon). What follows is a romance of ultimate sensual devotion, where love will walk the line between physical pleasure and eternal desire. Anne-Marie Pisani (Delicatessen) co-stars in this uncommon erotic classic.
eyelights: its joie de vivre. its subtle sexiness. its cast. its dénouement.
eyesores: its slightly aimless third act.
“Promise me something, just one thing: the day you don’t love me anymore don’t pretend you do.”
Love. There was a time when I truly believed that it was possible for someone else to be my “be all end all”, that there could be one person who could made the days brighter, the nights warmer, a person with whom I could be everything I am and who would impress me to become even more – and vice versa.
These days, I believe that it’s unlikely for me to find all the things I seek in one person – that my wishes are just too specific, too many for one person to fulfill. I now believe that it means finding the most crucial elements in one person and then seeking the rest in various platonic friendships.
But the boy in me still lives on somewhere, and movies like ‘Le Mari de la coiffeuse’ tap into the dreamer that believes it’s possible for some people to find contentment in each other – that some fortunate few don’t need much else but that one special person for life to have meaning, to feel complete.
I first saw the picture some 25 years ago, when it played on The Movie Network. I was immediately taken with it; there was a poetic beauty to the picture that moved me and a subtle sensuality that stirred me. I seem to recall catching it 2-3 times before it disappeared, never for me to see it ever again.
And I’m glad to report that the picture has not lost any of its power since.
The Patrice Leconte picture stars Jean Rochefort as Antoine, a man who realizes his childhood dream of marrying a hairdresser when he stumbles into Isidore, the shop that Mathilde runs. Immediately taken with her, he makes his move. And she accepts. Together they share many years of simple bliss in the shop.
Though there isn’t much plot to be found in the picture, the story is told in a layered way such that it defines the characters gradually, firstly from the perspective of Antoine’s 14-year-old self, then from his middle-aged self, and, lastly, from his present self. It encapsulates the dusk and dawn of his dream.
From the start, we know that something is amiss: Leconte inserted shots of a dispassionate Antoine looking at us, clipping his own hair over a black backdrop. Though we haven’t yet met Mathilde, and have no idea what fate awaits him, there’s a unmistakable sense that Antoine’s blissful existence is finite.
But we’re soon taken with his delightful childhood reminiscences, about his summers on the beach, his crush on the local hairdresser, a curvy woman that drew him to her daily, and his first sexual experiences, that we’re never mired in the uncertainty. We see this young boy’s future shape itself before us.
By the time he meets Mathilde, Antoine has been seeking to recreate his childhood experience his whole life; he knew at 14 that he wanted to marry a hairdresser and now he has his chance. And he’s happy. He’s happy with Mathilde. And Mathilde is happy with him. Their days are spent just being together.
Their emotional ecstasy is an ideal: this is a state of being that they effortlessly sustain by remaining together in their shop or in the apartment above it; they don’t feel the need to go out in the world and most of their interactions are with the customers. With few outside influences, they can remain in love.
I loved seeing the warmth and adoration on each other’s faces as she worked and he watched her, or the flirtatious exchanges between them as she read near the window, waiting for customers to come around. In their world, there is no one else, only passersby, temporary visitors, and minor distractions.
And when the rest of the world melts away, or when the urge takes them, they show their love for one another – sometimes in the way she massages his head as she shampoos his hair, in the way he caresses her while customers are not looking, and in their lovemaking, when closing the shop becomes irresistible.
What’s interesting is that, though ‘Le Mari de la coiffeuse’ is hardly an explicit film, it’s incredibly sexy; it’s a potent mixture of romance and raw sensuality that you can feel in your core. It’s in the eyes, the smiles, the way they buzz around each, the way they move; the air ripples with sex.
Michael Nyman’s score to the picture adds an element of exoticism and heightens the joie de vivre that is already omnipresent. With a few licks of mid-eastern music, he takes us to another world, into a magical place where Antoine and Mathilde coexist freely, dancing spontaneously to the radio.
Though the picture doesn’t end on a high note, what’s remarkable is that its melodramatic turn isn’t unexpected: it’s hinted at in a few instances and we are ready for the outcome even though we don’t know what it will be. And while it’s tragic to see the bubble burst, having been in it remains a small gift.
‘Le Mari de la coiffeuse’ made me dream, it made me laugh, it made me cry. Watching it, I felt alive. It moved me in ways that most films can’t even begin to. For 80 minutes, I was in Antoine’s skin, perfectly content, living my dream, just being with the one I’d sought my whole life. I lived and loved.
I can’t pretend that I could have such a simple, peaceful existence; my needs and desires are far too complex for this to ever happen. But the power of cinema is that it can transport you to another place, help you escape your reality and experience something different as fully as though you were there.
‘Le Mari de la coiffeuse’ does that for me.
Date of viewing: April 2, 2017