Director: Mona Achache
Cast: Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa, Anne Brochet
RunTime: 1 hr 41 mins
Rating: PG (Some Content Not Suitable For Children)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films
Opening Day: 24 May 2012
Synopsis: Inspired by the beloved New York Times bestseller, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery, THE HEDGEHOG is the timely story of Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) a young girl bent on ending it all on her upcoming twelfth birthday. Using her father’s old camcorder to chronicle the hypocrisy she sees in adults, Paloma begins to learn about life from the grumpy building concierge, Renée Michel (FRENCH TWIST’s Josiane Balasko). When Paloma’s camera reveals the extensive secret library in Renée’s back room, and that the often gruff matron reads Tolstoy to her cat, Paloma begins to understand that there are allies to be found beneath the prickliest of exteriors. As the unlikely friendship deepens, Paloma’s own coming of age becomes a much less pessimistic prospect.
Paloma Josse (Garance Le Guillermic) is a eleven year old girl disturbed by her privileged life in Paris. Her father Paul (Wladimir Yordanoff) is distracted by his government job while her mother Solange (Anne Brochet) drinks champagne with anti-depressants while talking to her plants. She decides she will kill herself in 165 days on her 12th birthday and begins to document the hypocrisy of the adults in her apartment building with her father's old camcorder. The apartment janitor, Renee, may appear to be a just another middle-aged woman who is bitter and grumpy, somewhat prickly, but when a new Japanese neighbor, Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) moves in, he sees something else in her, something soft. This intrigues Paloma about “The Hedgehog”, a term used to describe Renee. Despite the fact that Paloma and Renee are on opposite ends of the socioeconomic scale, both of them prefers to quietly observe life from a place of relative obscurity while dwelling on the edge of the society
The soul of the film is definitely the subtle love story between Kakuro and Renee. Kakuro surprises Renee by completing her comment that 'happy families are all alike,' with 'but each unhappy family is unique,' which is a direct quote from a novel during their first meeting. As Renee goes through her own transformation, the chemistry between her and Kakuro grows. It was then the three form a unique bond and we see Paloma and Renee emerge from hiding and begin to embrace life..
While adapting Muriel Barbery's bestselling novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", director Mona Achache makes a memorable directorial debut. She complements Barbery’s style and enhances her work through Paloma's actions, doing things such as putting her older sister Colombe (Sarah Le Picard) in a 'fishbowl' by filming her through a glass of water (as a metaphor of Paloma’s own life) and animating the drawings she created. While her character provides the narrative framing, young Le Guillermic makes an entertaining observer and narrator. The supporting cast as the Josse family gives a solid performance, creating a household which Paloma wish to escape from thoroughly believable. Igawa as Kakuro is gentle but understated and Balasko’s Renee is a revelation, her performance is nuanced and graceful from within her dowdy exterior.
The Hegdehog is a heartwarming and unique tale, highlighting the importance of digging through the hard surface of life for the chance of discovering the hidden meanings and enjoyment beneath. Life, sometimes like the hedgehog, conceals a sophisticated elegance beneath a spiky veneer.
(The Hedgehog is a rare gem: a movie that is humorously smart and yet deeply moving)
Review by Sing Swee Leong