The Hedgehog

in 33rd Cairo International Film Festival

by Dineke de Zwaan

Eleven-year-old Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) doesn’t see the point of life. To her it’s like being a goldfish, pointlessly bumping up against the glass of a bowl. Therefore she plans to commit suicide on her 12th birthday, unless she discovers a convincing reason to embrace the future. We follow the story, loosely based upon the bestselling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery (2006), through her eyes. Paloma loves to film with her father’s Hi8-videocamera, capturing anything strange going on in their bourgeois house. Like, for instance, her neurotic self-centred mother, addicted to pills and champagne, talking to plants, but unable to communicate with her daughters or husband. Paloma is artistically gifted. On the walls of her little room she creates 165 drawings marking time until her twelfth birthday. Then there is Renée (Josiane Balasko), the fifty-four-year-old caretaker of the buiding. She lives next to the entrance-gate and knows all the snobbish inhabitants. She is a lonely soul with a secret library. Paloma instinctively knows that Renée is like a hedgehog, protecting her inner beauty. Then a new, distinguished Japanese tenant arrives. It’s Mr Ozu (Togu Igawa, not a familial relation to the famous director Yasujiro Ozu), who is seventy years old. He sees Renée as a fellow human being and recognises a certain loneliness, vulnerability and sensitivity in her. Both of them have lost a spouse. Through this invasion into Renée’s professional and personal space, and with support from Renée’s female friend, things start to change for the better – until confronts Paloma, questioning the meaning of life. The Hedgehog is a wonderful screen-adaptation and a fascinating debut feature film from young director Mona Achache (28). Young Garance Le Guillermic, who plays Paloma, embodies the strong, intelligent, critical force of a clever eleven-year-old girl. Paloma’s way of trying tot gain control over her sensitive but depressing impressions is through creativity. She picks up her camera and films everything that’s going on in her family home. Well-chosen trenchant voice-overs are funny in their darkness and a pleasure to listen to. Paloma knows how to catch the absurd on camera when she films her parents’ dinner with friends. But her parents only take notice of the camera, not her. Downstairs lives Renée. Paloma loves this silent, eccentric, grumpy woman and seeks out her company. The drawing that she makes of Renée reading her books in her secret room, expresses Paloma’s love for Renee’s hidden spiritual life. It develops into a surprizing, warm and endearing animation film within the film. Renée is a warm, mother-like substitute. Some may interpret this film story as a drama of class-conflict, but that’s only true for Renee’s image of herself and how she feels she should behave in her professional life. She has little self-esteem and no option to climb the social ladder, but pretends to be at peace with that, until she is forced by the kindness from the new tenant Mr Ozu to take a new look at herself. In the end this well cast story is not about money or status but about love and wisdom. A beautiful quote from the film: “All happy families are the same. But every unhappy family is unique”. Leisurely and ultimately touching.

Edited by Tara Judah