The Hedgehog (Le Herisson)

Starring Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa and Anne Brochet. Directed by Mona Achache. 100 mins.
Rated M (mature themes).

Hedgehogs are prickly on the outside but more tender on the inside. This is the metaphor for understanding Renee, a 54 year old widow, overweight, sometimes curmudgeonly who thinks herself ugly, a concierge at an apartment building in Paris. This is how she describes herself to 11 year old Paloma from upstairs who is busy making her film, videoing everybody whether they consent or not. This is the setting for this quietly small but pleasing French portrait of eccentric people. This is what the French seem to do best: focus on characters, visual, emotional and psychological close-ups, moments of isolation and loneliness, moments of intimacy. There is a particular French sensibility.

Paloma is the character we are asked to identify with at first. She seems to have overdosed on some existential angst and is determined to kill herself on her next birthday as long as she is doing something she wants: to be making her film. Her parents are, as one would expect, quite odd, her mother in psychoanalysis for ten years, her father too busy at work, her sister writing a thesis. Every family unhappy in their own way, as Tolstoy noted.

Renee reads Tolstoy and is given a gift of books by a new tenant, a kindly and genial Japanese gentleman, a widower, who is attracted to Renee and she, despite her misgivings, attracted to him. The scenes between the two, watching an Ozu film on video, enjoying noodles and, later, sushi, are pleasing and emotionally satisfying.
Writer-director-actress Josiane Balasko embodies Renee. Bespectacled and introspective except with her camera, Garance Le Guillermic is Paloma. Togo Igawa is charming as Kakuro Ozu.

There is a shock towards the end, where several people, including the happily relaxed reviewer, jumped in their seat. Which means that the ending is not anticipated and there is a pervasive sadness.

However, audiences who want something lower key and humane rather than CG explosions will find that this is a satisfying look at being human.

Out 12th July 2010

Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.


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