The Hedgehog

“The Hedgehog.” I didn’t really know what to expect. A creature feature about a giant hedgehog stomping down Tokyo? Or a two-hour documentary on Ron Jeremy?

Nope. “The Hedgehog” (“Le hérisson”) is a French drama based on the bestselling novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”. Have I read the novel? Of course I haven’t. Had it been written by Guy N. Smith, I would’ve read it. After all of his books about giant killer crabs, just imagine what Smith could do with a hedgehog.

About fifteen years ago, I wrote a review which I concluded with the words “it sucks farts out of dead hedgehogs” — unfortunately I don’t remember what movie it was. In a way it would’ve been fun if 30-year-old Mona Achache’s “The Hedgehog” was really awful, so that I could quote myself. But on second thought, I guess that would’ve been a silly thing to do.

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Garance Le Guillermic plays the precocious 11-year-old Paloma, who’s so tired of life she’s decided to take her own life of her twelfth birthday, which when the story begins is in 169 days. Paloma lives in a gigantic building in Paris, it has five enormous luxury apartments. Her family is incredibly rich and pretty annoying, and Paloma thinks life is something meaningless, and during these 169 days, she’s going to document life in the building with her film camera.

In a shabby little apartment on the ground floor lives the janitor, Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko), a gray, overweight and far from attractive woman, who’s also a bit grumpy and reclusive. She prefers sitting and reading in her tiny room that’s crammed with books. And she eats lots of chocolate.

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In one of the luxury apartments lives a distinguished, elderly, single Japanese man; Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa, who was in Nu Image’s recent “Ninja”!), who one day unexpectedly invites Renée to dinner — a scene that made me hungry. I usually find noodles something pretty boring that I eat way too often just because I’m a lazy cook, but gentleman Ozu’s noodles looked incredibly delicious; they were prepared with passion. Renée and Ozu keep on meeting — dating? — albeit a bit careful and tentative, and lo and behold if the ugly, spiky woman blossoms and shows her beautiful inner self. Paloma also starts visiting Renée, she prefers being with the janitor than with her weird, pill-popping mom.

However, little Paloma still hasn’t changed her plans, and quite unconcerned she’s counting the days to her birth- and deathday, and says it’s not about when and how you die, but about what you’re doing when you die.

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“The Hedgehog” turns out to be quite a sympathetic little movie. I read that Achache has taken great liberties with the novel, but since I can’t compare the book with the movie, that doesn’t bother me — this movie works perfectly on its own.

The story’s starting point is undeniably odd — it sure can’t be nice following a little lass who plans to commit suicide, can it? But despite this bizarre plot, “The Hedgehog” is a light, casual drama that sometimes also is pretty funny. The acting is very good, especially the relation between Renée and Mt. Ozu.

The cinematography is really good, one scene suddenly turns into unexpected animation, and what do you know if it isn’t Gabriel Yared (“Betty Blue” and another 100 movies) who supplies the nice musical score. A woman behind me at the press screening was sobbing during one scene.

Paloma is a handy girl who’s also good at drawing, not only does she draw a hedgehog, she also makes a pop-up book (!) as a gift to Renée.

“The Hedgehog” opened in the States on August 19, 2011, while it played most of Europe already in 2010.

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