Precocious 11-year-old rich girl, Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is intent on ending her life on her 12th birthday - while making a film showing why life (hers and those around her) is absurd. While she plans her suicide and pinches tablets from her mother gradually, she also strikes up a friendship with new neighbour Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), with whom she discusses the building's reclusive concierge, widowed Mrs Renee Michel (Josiane Balasco) and her cat Leo. But Paloma, privy to the woman's extensive library, sees the withdrawn, unsociable and unkempt Mrs Michel as a hedgehog - all bristly on the outside, but deep down she is a refined, private and even elegant person. When Ozu invites Mrs Michel for a neighbourly Japanese dinner in his apartment, her transformation begins, prodded along by Paloma's innocent curiosity.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
An assured and engaging performance by Garance Le Guillermic as the 11 going on 12 year old Paloma centres this engaging film which is not your usual family film, yet will please mature members of her peer group - as well as adults. It's a sophisticated story in the best sense of the word: complex and layered, observant and warmly humane. But it is edged with melancholy and infused with drama. The novel was hugely popular in France.
Garance isn't the only one to stand out among the cast; French icon Josiane Balasco again delivers a heartfelt and subtle performance as Mrs Michel, the hedgehog whose life has been on hold for many years, except for her love of books. Indeed, her love of books connects her to new neighbour Kakouro Ozu (Togo Igawa) and also to Paloma. The scenes in which Ozu hosts her to dinner are well managed, balancing Mrs Michel's gradual opening up without the overstatement that might tempt a lesser director.
Igawa's restrained performance may seem a bit clichéd, but it suits the film's tone and the story's needs. There is a running theme around a goldfish, which is how Paloma sees her own unwanted future, akin to how she sees her family's life. Her older sister's goldfish comes to play a symbolic role, referring to Paloma's initial suicide plans and a resolution that is tied up with death. As Paloma repeatedly says about dying, what matters most is what you're doing at the time of your death. We are reminded of that by Paloma at a dramatic moment. All this makes the film sound more death-obsessed than it actually is.
Told from Paloma's point of view, the characters of her family are less fleshed out and the scenes in which she is filming them are perfunctory - but effective nonetheless. The sense of place is well sustained and Gabriel Yared's music is evocative and rich. Moving without being heavy-handed, The Hedgehog is a surprise and a memorable, even haunting delight.
Review by Louise Keller:
A serene and involving story about a little rich girl obsessed by death, The Hedgehog is a beautifully realised adaptation about perceptions, relationships and the mystery of life. Writer and director Mona Achache has captured all the internal elements of Muriel Barbery's novel simply but with great insight as the world of eleven year old Paloma is revealed. Determined not to be part of life's fishbowl, Paloma is an observer, but her detached fascination with everyone around changes as she becomes involved in the lives of the building's janitor and the perceptive Japanese businessman who moves into the apartment next door.
It is through the lens of a movie camera that Paloma looks at life. It is life's absurdities that intrigue her and that she wants to portray. Like her neurotic mother, talking to the pot plants and the comings and goings of everyone in the building. Paloma has been surreptitiously stealing her mother's antidepressants in anticipation of killing herself on her upcoming 12th birthday. But suddenly there is a shift in the dynamics as Togo Igawa's Kakuro Ozu arrives and makes a connection with Josiane Balasko's Renée Michel, the gruff, self-loathing janitor with the cat named after Tolstoy. Cat lovers will enjoy many of the cat scenes. Just like Kakuro, who immediately sees beyond Renée's abruptness, Paloma perceives something beyond the plump, ugly unsociable woman, comparing her to a hedgehog with outward prickles that shield a refined, private elegance.
Much of the dialogue comprises Paloma's muddled thoughts as she goes about her daily routine and Garance Le Guillermic is sensational. Suddenly, there's a beauty and purpose in the building, emanating from the burgeoning relationship between Renée and Kakuro. It is the way that Kakuro treats Renée that prompts her behaviour to change.
The Hedgehog is a subtle work with plenty to recommend it. It is full of surprises - like hearing Mozart when sitting on the toilet and cats named after a Russian revolutionary. But above all, there's a compelling melancholy that we feel as the perceptions of a curious little girl evolve and she begins to understand the mystery, the poetry and the challenges and complexities of life and death.
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HEDGEHOG, THE (M)
CAST: Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa, Anne Brochet, Ariane Ascarides, Wladimir Yordanoff, Sarah Lepicard, Samuel Achache
PRODUCER: Anne-Dominique Toussaint
DIRECTOR: Mona Achache
SCRIPT: Mona Achache (novel by Muriel Barbery)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Patrick Blossier
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Patrick Schmitt
RUNNING TIME: 100 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 8, 2010