Exploitation Retrospect | The Journal of Junk Culture and Fringe Media

Le Mari de la Coiffeuse (aka The Hairdresser's Husband) (1990)
Severin Films | Buy at Amazon | Review by Crites

So according to Roger Ebert, this was one of 1990's ten best films. I don't know, it looks like a smelly French chick flick to me, but we'll see where this "uncommon erotic classic" takes us.

We open with some French kid practicing his belly dancing by the seashore. Yes, that's correct. The Arabian music continues through the credits, after which we find an older gentleman reminiscing as he cuts his own hair. He's thinking about the beach at Luc-sur-Mer, and the woolen bathing suits his mother knitted for him and his brother. Complete with hanging pom-poms, "like cherries." "I was always sore between the legs," he remembers, due to the fact that the wool never dried. But on the other hand it taught him to always take care of his balls (this as his younger self plays croquet on the sand).

Back in the city, the 12-year-old lad, Antoine, loves going to the barber's. Not because of a haircut fetish, but because he had short hot pants for the owner of the shop, red-headed Rubenesque Mme. Scheaffer; her "pronounced body odor" drove him wild every time. And on a hot day in June of 1947, through her open blouse he caught sight of her "heavy but ideally rounded breasts," something which sends him into a trance state of puppy lust. At dinner that night, when his father asks him what he wants to do in life, Antoine says, "I want to marry a hairdresser." And is promptly slapped in the face. Antoine's resolve, however, remains unbroken.

Cut to the elder Antoine (Jean Rochefort), who sits in a barbershop enchanted by the "slightly sad but gracious" Mathilde (Anna Galiena). He had met her some time ago after she had taken over the shop from the previous owner, Isidore Agopian, which she then ran all by herself. At first she put him off for a haircut, saying that she was waiting on another appointment. Antoine lingered in the area and over the next half-hour saw that there really was no 'other customer.' "But what disturbed me most," he remembers, "Was that once again, after years of searching, I was in love with a hairdresser."

But Antoine's first hairdresser crush ended badly; Mme. Scheaffer committed suicide, with a "massive dose of barbiturates." Antoine reached her shop just far enough ahead of the police to stare at the crevasse between her plump thighs before the cops broke down her door. Recalling this incident as he gets his hair cut, the elder Antoine suddenly says to Mathilde, "Will you marry me?" "35 francs," is her response, for the haircut.

Three weeks later Antoine again visits Mathilde's shop. Busy with another customer, she acts like she doesn't recognize her suitor. After his haircut, as he pays Mathilde tells him, "I don't know what got into you. You were probably making fun of me. But if you weren't teasing," she continues, "Then I appreciate your proposal." And just like that she consents to marry him. And Antoine is as happy as a little boy.

"When told I was marrying a hairdresser, my father died of a heart attack. Out of loyalty, my mother refused to meet Mathilde or to visit the shop." On top of the fact that Mathilde has no family, the wedding party is a small one. Held at the shop and accompanied by Antoine's perennial Arabian dance music, in attendance are only Antoine's brother, his wife, and Mr. Agopian. (As well as a drop-in customer who wanted his beard shaved because, "They say it makes me look sad." "Too bad," he says, looking in the mirror after Mathilde stops in the middle of the party and cleans him up for free). Antoine plans to live a simple, blissful, insulated life with Mathilde, and she, the quiet solitary type herself, seems most agreeable. They spend a short honeymoon at Luc-sur-Mer, then return to life on their "stationary luxury liner."

One day Antoine is having his hair trimmed when a nervous-looking man hurries into the shop and frantically requests a haircut. A regal-looking woman enters the shop after him and, after sitting down for a moment, rises, spins his chair around and slaps him loudly across the face. The man, Julien Gora, introduces his wife Germaine and himself, and the scene is over as soon as it started as Germaine bids them goodbye and leaves the shop. The newlyweds are asked for their opinion of the woman, and Mathilde thinks that Germaine is "very nice," while Antoine declares her "magnificent." Julien agrees, asserting that she is at her loveliest when she is angry. Shortly afterward the couple locks up for the day and begin to get intimate right there behind the counter. Mathilde asks Antoine to promise her one thing, that being that when he no longer loves her he will not pretend that he does.

On another day a mother hauls her struggling brat in for a much needed haircut. The child screams and pitches a fit, hiding under the chair and doing everything he can to avoid his fate. As his mother bemoans her situation ("He's not even ours. We adopted him. Big mistake!"), Antoine puts on the belly dancing music and begins to dance like a fool, somehow charming the kid into sitting still for his haircut. All the while Antoine thinks about how fine it is not to have any children of their own. Or friends, for that matter. "What could they add to our lives?"

When mother and child leave Antoine puts on another record and coerces Mathilde to dance with him. She does, and as he spins dreams of the future she begs him to hold her tightly, fearful that the day may come when he'll no longer want to dance with her. He reassures her, but there is a foreboding flash-forward where we see Antoine, alone, staring at nothing in silent sadness.

Another time Mathilde is tending to the poet Mr. Doneker. As she listens to his poems, and as he tells her that they fade away and die, like flowers do, Antoine is overcome. Even with the apparently blind client in the chair Antoine moves to stand next to Mathilde, massaging her breasts and sliding down her panties. He moves his hands up between her legs, working on her even while she works on Mr. Doneker.

Antoine recalls that in ten years they only had one fight. Bored and listless, Mathilde asked him one day if he'd like a haircut. As he sat in the chair, during the small talk that ensued Antoine made a disparaging remark about a favorite actor of Mathilde's. She became "annoyed and silent," but finished the haircut. "That was our only fight."
That night neither one of them can sleep. Mathilde comes down from the apartment upstairs and finds Antoine smoking a cigarette, something he hadn't done before. She joins him and asks for a cigarette. They sit together, smoking, and when he apologizes she says not at all, it was she who got 'carried away over nothing.' She would like a drink, though. They don't keep booze, but what they do have, Antoine tells her, is Eau de Cologne. "Want to poison us?" Mathilde laughs. "Let's try it," Antoine says. Putting on one of his records and mixing several bottles into one, Antoine dances about, shaking the mixture like a cocktail. He pours them each a glass, and..."Not bad," Mathilde admits.

In the morning they lie on the floor together, surrounded by the mess of the night before. "We drank a lot. Weird things," Antoine's narration tells us. "We made love standing before a mirror." There was talk about all of the cocks in all of the women in all of the world at that moment, with Mathilde being the happiest. He remembers her saying that she would never leave him - "'Til death do us part." And when he opens his eyes, he sees a little boy peeking in the front window.

Later they visit Mr. Agopian in the old folks' home. He's a bit sour, and after a brief chat he hustles them out, the way he sees the families of other residents leave almost as soon as they've arrived. "Stay happy," he tells them as they depart.

Back at the shop Mathilde cuts the hair of a man who perpetually argues with his friend. Today they are bickering over the subject of death, and when asked for his opinion Antoine says, "Death is yellow and smells of vanilla." He cannot wait for the patrons to leave, and as they do Mathilde remarks that her client seems to stoop more and more every day. "Every day he gets older," Antoine tells her. "Life's disgusting," Mathilde says. Shortly thereafter a thunderstorm begins. The lights go out and they make love.

Afterward Mathilde rushes out into the rain, saying she's picking up some yogurt for that evening. But instead she goes to the walkway by the shore and throws herself into the ocean. "My love," her voiceover says, "I'm going before you do. I'm going before your desire dies. Then we'd be left with tenderness alone. And I know that wouldn't be enough." As her sheet-covered body is examined by emergency personnel her voice continues, saying in part, "I go with the memory of the best years of my life. The ones you gave me. I kiss you slowly until I die...I loved only you. I'm going so you'll never forget me. Mathilde."

As her corpse is carried away we see Antoine, standing in the rain, reading her suicide note.

Afterward Antoine sits alone in the shop, doing the crossword. Some scruffy fellow comes in and sits down, and Antoine offers him a shampoo. Putting on his music again Antoine begins to do his dance, and his customer gets up to join him, even giving him a few pointers. Abruptly Antoine shuts off the music and sits down. "The hairdresser will be back," he tells the man.

That's right, I spoiled the ending. And I'd do it again. Hell, you could see it coming all the way from 1947, but you had to endure all manner of foreign bullshit before it finally arrived. I mean, you've got to be fucking kidding; a whole movie about a fucking relationship in a fucking barber shop? What kind of frog-gigging one-trick stage play ratshit is this?

I'm sure the message is something about appreciating the time you have with your partner, blah blah blah, but why make the entire audience sick and old with your sordidly sentimental view of romance while you're at it? Wouldn't you know it, the real moral of the story turns out to be that the sweet and beautiful woman's form of love proves to be the most hurtful and selfish imaginable. Bravo, Frenchy.

This tale of an aging Frenchman, interspersed with childhood flashbacks of a young Frenchboy, is simply maudlin. It really makes the 81-minute running time seem so much longer and more painful than it actually is that it literally took me all fucking day to get through this thing. And as glorious as Mathilde seemed I was practically praying for her death before the film was even halfway through, just to get the wretched thing over with.

Speaking of dragging things out there are, of course, several bonus features. These consist of a theatrical trailer and two featurettes, "LeConte on LeConte Part One," with the director, and "The Hairdresser's Recollections," with star Anna Galiena. And if you think I'm gonna sit still for either one of those then you can go and suck a dog's dick.
Now, thanks to this shitpot of love, I can no longer stand Arabian music. Which before I thought was pretty keen. Even the concept of belly dancing is no longer appealing to me, and who doesn't like a good belly dance now and again? Nice going, twench.

In French, with English subtitles.

Oh, yeah, just one more thing: Fuck you, Roger Ebert.

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