'Hairdresser's Husband': delightful cut above recent romance films

July 09, 1993|By Scott Hettrick | Scott Hettrick,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

THE HAIRDRESSER'S HUSBAND

(Paramount, rated R, 1990)

You wouldn't think a film about a guy who spends his life sitting in his wife's hair salon, admiring her and playing with her in between customers and after hours, would be much to look at. But "The Hairdresser's Husband," a French film with English subtitles, is one of the most original and delightful light-hearted romance movies in recent years. It also conveys an unusually appropriate sense of sensuality between a married couple, something sadly lacking in most movies.

Our storyteller, Antoine (Jean Rochefort), describes his childhood in an amusing prologue, during which he describes how his mother made him swim in a bathing suit made of wool. He also describes how he loved having his hair shampooed and cut by the hairdresser. Part of the pleasure, of course, was the titillation of having the buxom woman lean over him to the point that he could occasionally catch a glimpse of one of her breasts through her open-collared uniform.

Antoine vowed to himself that he would one day marry the woman. But the woman committed suicide, so he amended his plan to allow for any feminine hairdresser.

Cut to a middle-aged, rather homely Antoine. We know little about what has transpired in the years between. Before we know it, he has found an even lovelier young hairdresser named Mathilde (Anna Galiena) who owns her own shop, which is not the most active place in the apparently small town. On his first meeting with her he proposes marriage and she accepts.

While she runs the shop, he admires her, which serves as a kind of foreplay for the couple, who spontaneously act on their physical attraction day or night (their apartment is upstairs), whenever and wherever the mood strikes them. These scenes are far more erotic than the steamy Hollywood fare, though far less graphic. Director Patrice Leconte allows us to see Mathilde as her admiring and loving husband sees her.

Antoine is an amusingly odd little man, periodically breaking into some affectation of an Arabian dance. It is no more clear why the beautiful Mathilde would be attracted to him than it is how Antoine can afford not to work. But the two are so obviously completely fulfilled -- they rule out having children or seeking friends because they don't see how they could possibly enhance their idyllic lives -- that the audience can't help but feel a sense of joy for them.

However, there is an underlying uncertainty about Mathilde that manifests itself late in the picture, suddenly and shockingly. In fact, it is a rather cruel manipulation of the audience. But the severity of the pain felt by the viewer is an indication of the depth of emotion one had invested in the couple.

B6 These are not characters that will soon leave you.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

(Turner, no rating, 1993)

Call it the Brian Dennehy factor.

Whether it's a theatrical feature or a movie made for network or cable television, if Mr. Dennehy appears in it -- either as the leading actor or in a supporting role -- its success is practically guaranteed.

The theory proves valid once again in this charming new romantic comedy that premiered on the TNT cable network in March. Mr. Dennehy, playing Chuck Mumpson, a good-natured sewage-plant engineer and former rancher, gets plenty of help on his trip abroad from Joanne Woodward's character, a spinsterish New England college teacher and a refined intellectual, Vinnie Miner.

Their unlikely relationship begins when the gabby and massive Mumpson squeezes in the seat next to Miner on what becomes, for her, an interminable flight to London. Despite her increasingly blunt suggestions, he won't stop talking -- about himself, of course, and his opinions on business, politics, travel, whatever. Once in England, the two continue to bump into one another, in bookstores, cafes, etc.

Viewers know immediately where this film is going, but it's the getting there that is such a delight. In the hands of other actors, this mismatch romance might seem forced, contrived and hokey. But these two pull it off. Ms. Woodward convinces us that truly she has no interest in the boorish Mumpson. Yet, as we come to know her character, it's apparent that Miner is susceptible to the concept of companionship. Considering her age and rather plain physical appearance, it is not unfathomable that she would be attracted to such a gentleman.

It's clear right from the start that Mumpson is lonely. That he pursues someone who so clearly detests his sort is an indication that he considers the pursuit an amusing challenge and that he )) senses her vulnerability.

Suffice it to say that their stay in England turns into something more than either expected, and something viewers will thoroughly enjoy.

The only flaw with the film is a superfluous subplot involving a fling between Miner's young colleague (Eric Stoltz) and her volatile actress friend (Stephanie Beacham).

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