The Hedgehog: Preteen Discontent in France

Adapted from Muriel Barbery’s international best seller The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Mona Achache’s first film follows two parallel story lines: one featuring a thoroughly insufferable little girl, the other a pleasingly grumpy middle-aged widow. Scrawny, bespectacled, precocious 11-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic), disgusted by the futility of her bourgeois existence, plans to kill herself on her next birthday—a scheme announced, as too many of the half-pint’s sour ruminations are, directly into the Hi-8 camcorder she’s borrowed from her government-minister dad. When breaking, though not often enough, from the preteen’s disdain and morbid obsessions, The Hedgehog focuses on Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko), the concierge of the luxury Left Bank apartment building where Paloma and her family live. Mme. Michel’s bibliophilia and knowledge of Japanese cinema are interests she keeps to herself, for, as she says, “No one wants a pretentious janitor.” Her observation typifies the film’s lazy, polite remarks on class difference, particularly when new resident Mr. Ozu (Togo Igawa) charmingly woos the charwoman. But watching Balasko, a veteran actor/writer/director in thick-browed, frumped-up drag, sitting at her kitchen table reading Tolstoy and nibbling on dark chocolate with a cat in her lap, is one of The Hedgehog‘s purest delights. At the very least, it provides relief from the prating of that junior wisenheimer.