Title: The Hedgehog (Le Herisson)
Directed By: Mona Achache
Written By: Mona Achache, from Muriel Barbery’s novel “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”
Cast: Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa, Anne Brochet, Ariane Ascaride
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 6/28/11
Opens: August 19, 2011
Things are seldom what they seem. An eleven-year-old girl, one would figure, would be watching Disney cartoons, checking out her email on a BlackBerry, and giggling with friends over boys in her class. A janitor who mops the floors of a building but probably would not know how to fix a leaky sink would hardly be expected to curl up with Tolstoy. Yet both of these items are present in “The Hedgehog,” the title being a metaphor as that animal is prickly on the outside but soft on the inside, though I’d prefer the term “Sabra” to describe the janitor who stands out in the movie.
While those ubiquitous ads on TV for anti-depressants warn that people under eighteen should avoid taking them because they could lead to thoughts of suicide, young Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) needs no pills to decide on doing herself in on the twelfth birthday. She collects anti-depressants from her distracted mother, Solange (Anne Brochet), taking one with each prescription in order to have enough when the time comes. She does not appear unhappy. Her family is well-to-do, she indulges in her hobby of videotaping her sister, mother and father (Wladimir Yordanoff) in various family situations, but she expects herself to be unable to avoid succumbing to what she considers the mediocre bourgeois life of her folks. She considers them like the goldfish in her small tank, peering outside and knocking themselves out on the glass helplessly. Obviously she needs to become friends with people who are different from them in order to opt for life. That’s where Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) and Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko) step in. Kakuro is the perfect gentleman, a prince charming, and the only one who can see past Renée’s desperation as a plump, homely janitor who almost never leaves the building. Kakuro appreciates Renée’s literary knowledge and sweeps her off her feet, cooking a meal in his apartment, taking her out to a Japanese restaurant, and sharing a video of a Japanese movie. When little Paloma gets to talk to Renée, she is so taken that she announces to her parents that she wants to be a janitor when she grows up.
Americans might find it strange that Renée is referred to as a concierge, a word that has a more literal meaning in France than in the U.S. where we consider it the profession that sits at hotel desks to show maps to tourists and book reservations for them. The term derives from “com servitius”, or “with slaves,” and thereby means “janitor” over there. While the movie stands well on its own, being far more interesting in developing the courtship between Renée and Kakuro than in honing in on a coming-of-age moment for the precocious but often irritating Paloma, viewers might be get more involved in reading the novel if they are of a philosophic bent. “The Emergence of the Hedgehog” (get the Alison Anderson translation of Muriel Barbery’s work) is more than a cute tale of people learning from people, delving full force into philosophic discussions and venturing in the comedy of manners style about class differences with all of its pretensions.
The sixty-one year old Josiane Balasko looks frumpy here but Balasko, who plays a fifty-four year old concierge, is more attractive in real life, having 71 titles in her acting résumé, including “French Twist”–about a woman who invites a lesbian to move in with her and her wandering husband. Director Mona Achache has successfully lifted the story elements from the novel, though the film falls short of rollicking in the book’s satirical slant.
Unrated. 98 minutes. (c) 2011 by Harvey Karten Member: NY Film Critics Online
Story : B-
Acting : B+
Technical : B+
Overall : B