When it comes to stories concerning the most esoteric and eccentric of life’s inhabitants, our brothers and sisters in France almost always take the cake. Rarely do filmmakers from other countries depict someone wandering about in a self-absorbed haze, questioning what the very purpose of their existence is for, and spouting the most pretentious of soliloquies like the French do. And Mona Achache’s The Hedgehog — a 2009 motion picture adaptation of Muriel Barbary’s novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog — is certainly no exception: only this time, our filmic philosophical tutor is a depressed, suicidal eleven-year-old girl.
Determined to off herself on the day of her twelfth birthday, young Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) walks about the upscale Parisian apartment complex her wealthy, well-read but completely oblivious and neurotic family lives in, filming everybody’s actions, commentating on how absurd life is — a testament in the making of her decision to leave the world so soon. Downstairs, an overweight, less-than-average looking, middle-aged woman named Renée (Josiane Balasko) works as the building’s superintendent. To the average hoity-toity resident, Renée is just a concierge. Within her small apartment, however, lies a large book collection; which serves as verification of her own intelligence, which she keeps from everyone else.
When an old tenant passes away, an aged Japanese widower (Togo Igawa) moves in, and instantly takes an interest in the widowed superintendent — after they both quote Tolstoy to each other on their first encounter. Likewise, Paloma — still conspiring her own demise, mind you — begins to pay attention to the lady downstairs, who she compares to a hedgehog (owing to her true inner-self rather than her frumpy appearance). Eventually, separate bonds are formed between the trio, leading each one to discover something they perhaps have been missing from life all this time.
Yes, it’s a pretty philosophical film, kiddies; one that is pretty French, really. As such, I enjoyed it. If Le Guillermic does not grow up to be a major starlet in Europe, I shall be sorely disappointed. Her adult co-stars also deliver fine performances, with Igawa-san stealing the show despite the fact that all of the French he speaks is phonetic. NeoClassics Films Ltd. Releases this critic/audience favorite to home video with easy-to-read English subtitles (it’s in French, in case you haven’t figured that one out yet, folks) with several special features (deleted scenes, a photo gallery, and a trailer).
Recommended. Especially if you’re a fan of eccentric esoteric French fare.