In the opening reels of “Haircut,” debuting Portuguese director Joaquim Sapinho displays a commanding hand in his easy modulation of mood swings and character conflicts within a slender situation. Ultimately, however, the fragile premise runs aground with nowhere to go. Story of a young woman who puts her fiance’s affections to the test on their wedding day would be best used as a calling card for future projects with stronger scripts.
The test takes the form of a haircut. While preparing for her civil ceremony wedding, Rita (Carla Bolito) decides on a whim to have her waist-length tresses cropped short to prove that Paulo (Marco Delgado) loves her for more than just her appearance. A shadow falls over the couple when Paulo sees her new look, and while the marriage goes ahead, a rift appears to have formed.
That rift widens during the course of the day, as the haircut has indelibly sullied Paulo’s mood, and he reacts by cutting Rita’s hair even shorter while she is asleep.
From here on in, the characters lose their consistency and Sapinho appears unsure of what direction to take. Events happening around the couple, such as the discovery of a friend’s drug habit and, later, the bust-up of his relationship, are of little consequence. When Rita storms off in the night, meeting up first with a previous admirer and then with a violent bunch of skinheads, the episodes seem to belong to another film.
Director’s attempt to examine crisis and compromise in love and friendship in a free-flowing, original way has its small rewards, but the exercise feels stretched to threadbare extremes. Prime concern seems to be the camera’s ceaseless eulogizing of Bolito’s sultry beauty, on display in an endless run of caressing closeups.
Like so much cinema from down Lisbon way, the film’s use of light and color is extraordinarily crisp. Editing also is sharp, with several vid sequences worked in for textural variation.