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The Hairdresser - short documentary review

★★★

Directed by: #LorrainePrice

 

One's life always has value, especially when the end is near. I have seen the work of palliative care first-hand, through the compassion and the humanity shown to my family members in their final months; I can say with no doubt that they truly are heroes. Heroic through the simplest of acts, the acts that remind their patients that their lives are still here, that they have not been abandoned. Sharing in prayer, helping one to eat, all these normalcies that have becomes rarities through terminal illness, even the act of getting a haircut. Lorraine Price presents a portrait documentary of Kathleen, the titular hairdresser, in a mixture of intimate and clinical imagery showing the small yet crucial impact her volunteering has on patient Madame Lalonde.


The Hairdresser
The Hairdresser

It is business as usual within this Montreal hospital’s palliative care unit but inside Madame Lalonde’s room, it's far more personal. Price and editor Pauline Decroix show how life endures, ends and eventually remembered through simple actions. This haircut against Kathleen’s voiceover explaining her delicate methods and experiences in palliative care emphasis the care she provides. Jacquelyn Mills’s cinematography never makes you feel like you are intruding on these moments, its intimacy disarms you from cynicism or awkwardness and Price just lets the truth guide the film. My reaction to The Hairdresser was to think of the family I’ve lost and to appreciate those who committed their time to help them, I found Kathleen and Madame Lalonde’s time together to be beautiful and a testament to the dignity that so many deserve in their final days.


It is easy to think that terminal illness just means the end, that there’s nothing left to do but wait. I have complicated feelings over that time between diagnosis and death but I appreciated how The Hairdresser reflects on how the absence of a cure does not translate to an absence of hope or even life. Kathleen doesn’t volunteer out of a sense of pity or guilt, her words express her passion for hairdressing and sharing that passion with others. It’s that spark of humanity that gets us through the pain, that kindness of strangers that reaffirms that old belief the human race isn’t as hopeless as we once thought.


It’s easy to forget the little things when the larger picture looms, but it’s been said that the little things make life worth living. Price and Decroix make sure we see the framed photographs of Madame Lalonde’s life displayed across from her at the end of the film. It was a full life of love and memories, no doubt she will be missed when her time comes if it hasn’t already but while those are just reminders of time gone by, it’s Kathleen that shows life’s little things aren’t over yet.


Price and her team deliver a beautiful little portrait of people’s kindness towards one another, a glimpse of life that has you reflect on your own. Its simplicity is to its benefit, focusing solely on its subjects rather than any flashy technique or manufactured drama. The Hairdresser is simply a day in the life, with Kathleen ending the film with a reflection on how “life is beautiful” and after witnessing the bond she forms with Madame Lolande this bitter cynic can’t help but agree.



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