A wish-fulfillment romance for art-house audiences, Mona Achache’s “The Hedgehog ” Le hérisson”) is an ingratiating adaptation of Muriel Barbary’s international bestseller “The Elegance of the Hedgehog.”
Precocious Paloma (Garance Le Guillemic), 11 -years old and already jaded, plans to suicide on her twelve birthday before she’s trapped in the “fishbowl” of conformist adult life. She steals one of her mother’s anti-depressants daily, stockpiling them for the act.
Filming her snob bourgeois family in a aggressive video diary which she plans to leave as her document, she narrates her disdain with the conformist lifestyle she’s expected to adopt. Her spaced-out mother, in perpetual Freudian Analysis, drifts through life stoned on antidepressants: her narcissistic older sister, who rags on Paloma ceaselessly, her type-A politician father, none of these self-involved characters have time for the ironic braniac girl who lives in their midst. Besides waxing philosophic (author Muriel Barbary teaches philosophy in Japan) the gifted pre-teen also creates exquisite drawings and pop up portraits of her life, which seem too accomplished for her skill set.
The poor little rich girl returns Léo the Concierge’s missing cat. Catching a glimpse of the book-lined study hidden in dumpy Madame Michel’s back room, she realizes she’s found an ally. Soon she has permission from mom to hang out with Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko). Their relationship is one of the charms of a film that would otherwise float away on a cloud of improbability. Renée drops her Concierge act with Paloma. She’s a literate isolate, with a lavish library, who spends her off time curled up reading the classics.” Nobody wants a concierge with pretensions,” explains Renee, making herself invisible to her tony residents.
Paloma, on the other hand, sees Renée as a hedgehog “spiky on the outside, but elegant within” who’s found the “perfect way to hide.”
When an old tenant suddenly dies (mourned by everyone in the exclusive building) the fascinating Mr. Kakoru Ozu (Togo Igawa) moves in, a rapidly transforming his apartment into an elegant minimalist Japanese showplace. Showing discernment Ozu joins the club of outsiders, Paloma charms him by practicing Japanese. Discovering Renée’s cat is named Léo, he guesses it’s for Tolstoy. He quotes a famous line and Renée completes it.
Achache tends to spoon feed the audience. To make sure we understand that Renée quotes a line from Anna Karenina to Mr. Ozu, we watch her look up the quotes in her copy of the book. But wily comedienne Balasko is so immersed in the role, she makes us forgive Achache’s mistakes.
The lonely widower woos the hidden bibliomania: first a book, then a home cooked meal, a video date in his home theatre. (Renée turns him one to her favorite Japanese classics, finally a Sushi date (with fashion accessories). Renée’s friend loans her a couture dress from the cleaners where she works and gets her an appointment with a star hairdresser.
Satirizing the class underpinnings of the Cinderella theme, a snobbish resident schmooze Mr. Ozu’s date, not recognizing the Concierge she’s relied on for years. Paloma’s mother can’t even remember her name, as we see in a black comedy moment near the end ( quite a shock for those who haven’t read the book).
Both Igawa, as the idealized romantic suitor and Le Guillemic, as the wise-aleck Paloma play well with beloved comedienne Josiane Balasko, whose film this is. Premiered at COLCOA 2010