The Hedgehog is a French-language movie directed by Mona Achache based on the novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Muriel Barbery. In the movie, unlikely encounters develop in the setting of an affluent Parisian neighborhood. The film explores the interactions between Paloma, an 11-year old girl, Renée Michel, an apartment concierge, and Kakuro Ozu, a Japanese man who recently moved to the apartment complex.
Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is precocious and intelligent, but she feels antagonized and constrained within her family; she finds them unsophisticated and thinks they don’t understand her. Disillusioned by the affluent environment she grows up in, she feels that life is pointless and flat. She has made plans for her suicide, which should fall cleverly on her 12th birthday. Paloma is overly curious and spends much of her time videotaping what others are doing, often in an obvious way so that people know they are being filmed. Renée (Josiane Balasko), known by most as Madame Michel, is a surly widow who, for most people, represents a stereotypical concierge. She is largely unapproachable, but through Paloma’s videotaping we find that Michel hides an extensive library inside her apartment.
These two characters, who initially give an almost purely negative presentation of themselves, are offset by the arrival of Ozu (Togo Igawa). In an unlikely fashion, Ozu manages to see beyond the exteriors of Paloma and Michel. Ozu’s entrance into their interactions does not shift Paloma’s and Michel’s views completely, but they still change and develop. As the movie continues, their personalities begin to depart from their original, pessimistic containment. The hedgehog is often used as a representation of Madame Michel’s prickly outside but completely different interior. References to the hedgehog, whether or not they are directly related to Michel, are brought up consistently.
An aspect of the movie I found refreshing was that the cinematography focuses on a relatively mundane depiction of suburban Paris, while most American cinema has given us portrayals of the “mainstream” Paris we see in postcards. Though the depiction focuses mostly on daily activities — eating dinner, walking to school, or going up elevators — it is done in a way that allows us to have a glimpse into daily life for Parisians and an understanding of what is happening to characters internally.
The movie does not bombard the audience with strong emotions. Indeed, The Hedgehog is not a drama or a thriller; instead, it focuses on a steady, subdued mood, which is reflected in the constant depiction of Paris’s cool, cloudy days. Putting aside the fact that The Hedgehog is based on a book, the movie is not the most original, and it does not have particularly innovative insight, cinematography, acting, or even thematic development. However, the movie does a terrific job at what it does feature. The characters’ personas are well-developed, as are their interactions — which change over time. I was able to strongly relate to all three main characters. And, since the movie is largely narrated by Paloma, we get the opportunity to sense her stream of consciousness.
Perhaps The Hedgehog isn’t the most original movie around, but it’s still a worthwhile experience.