Hairdresser’s Husband, The: Patrice Leconte’s Tale of Erotic Obsession

How would you react if your 12-year-old son told you that his life’s goal, when he grows up, is to marry a hairdresser!

This is the premise of Patrice Leconte’s French film, “The Hairdresser’s Husband.” Like “Best Intentions,” this devastating comedy shows scenes from a marriage you are not likely to see in any American movie.

All his life, Antoine has been fixated on the two women who had sensuously shampooed and cut his hair. The first is the voluptuous Mrs. Shaeffer whom Antoine encounters in his adolescence. Years later, as an older man, Antoine (Jean Rochefort) meets Mathilde (Anna Galiena), another coiffeuse in a hair salon. Instantly enamored with his childhood obsession, he proposes to her.

Once married, Antoine spends all his time at the salon, watching Mathilde take care of the customers and making love to her after–sometimes during–work. The narrative doesn’t explain how Antoine can afford such life, but it doesn’t matter–the film has a dreamlike quality.

The couple is completely isolated; they have no family and no friends. The only other characters in the film are the customers who come to the shop. Afraid that the intensity and enchantment of their marriage would decrease, Antoine perceives any outside element as interference with their bliss. But at the end, this isolated existence and abundant desire prove self-destructive.

Leconte’s lyrical film is a painful tale of erotic obsession imbued with a typically French fateful sensibility. The new picture is not as moving as Leconte’s 1990 “Monsieur Hire” (also about obsession), but it is just as original, showing the work of idiosyncratic talent.

Like The Best Intentions, The Hairdresser’s Husband provides merciless deconstruction of two marriages, defined and shaped not only by the personalities involved, but also by their surrounding cultures. Indeed, while the Swedish picture presents a more cerebral scrutiny, the French is made in the romantic tradition of amour fou.