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Mona Achache's movie "Le hérisson" ("The Hedgehog" in English) is about
a Parisian girl leading an unfulfilled life with her affluent family,
and so she decides to commit suicide on her twelfth birthday. In the
process of filming her apartment and family, the girl befriends the
The movie presents a good contrast between the girl's disillusionment with her posh but superficial world and the concierge's appreciation of what little she has, and showing how the concierge is able to develop a relationship with a Japanese widower who moves into the apartment building. The girl's filming her sister throughout the goldfish bowl is a metaphor for the new look that she's taking at her bourgeois existence. In the end, the girl does start to reconsider her suicidal plans. Achache made a very good movie, one that I truly recommend.
The pre-teen 11 year old girl in Mona Achache's The Hedgehog is one of
the most delightful characters to watch on screen in the past few
years. Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) decides to kill herself in a few
months on her 12th birthday because she cannot bear the thought of
living the rest of her life in a fishbowl. In voice-over, this decision
is not a melodramatic response to her perceived lot in life or
depression, but the result of a particularly witty form of logic.
Paloma is not portrayed as a girl genius because she is overly book
smart, but because she has the firmest grasp of pure rhetoric and logic
any character has ever had before in a film.
Paloma spends her days sneaking around her large apartment and the fancy apartment building around it with her sturdy 8mm video camera documenting her family's neuroses and those of her neighbors. She can be extremely harsh, but true, when it comes to defining her mother, father, and sister through the lens. There is one neighbor Paloma cannot quite put her finger on though, which is rare, and that is the building's super who lives downstairs. From the unobservant eye, Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko) is a middle-aged and sour hermit who lives to mop the floor, distribute mail, and to give you a wary eye as you pass by. But there is something deeper than just what the eye can see which Paloma wants to find out. She realizes that being a building's concierge is the perfect place to hide in plain sight.
A new tenant moves in one day, Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), and he and Paloma realize they are kindred spirits. Mr. Ozu is a wealthy Japanese businessman and he strikes up a friendship with Paloma as they discuss their shared curiosity for the downstairs woman and their delight in playing the game Go with one another. Paloma has an enjoyable scene where she eviscerates an elder dinner guest who insists Go is the Asian form of chess. Using her impeccable logic, she makes a fool of him by even suggesting this could be so.
The Hedgehog won the Audience Award for Best Film at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival which is quite an achievement considering they screen hundreds of films in competition there. I will not soon forget what a great time I had being able to sit back and listen to brilliant dialogue in a film which is set almost exclusively in one building in Paris. Bravo.
If you liked "Amelie" and its "magical realism", you'll probably like
this film's naiveté. If you didn't... you'll just endure it :).
Can "films starring kids" succeed? Indeed! Stella (2009) is a good case in point. Also "Blame It on Fidel". This film will probably remind you of "something" both of Stella and "Seraphine", because of the "straight-out-of-the-bed unshavelled look" of the main character, but who has a "hidden secret/ sensibility". But again, Seraphine is a work of art, and a daring one. Herisson falters both emotionally and artistically. It has some pedagogic intentions, like when they quote twice, even showing the book, the trite Tolstoi quote about happy and sad families being alike and different. Or the "Freudian death wish" (thrice).
From the start this film tries to make us instantly like Paloma, then her classy and neurotic mum, then Renée (completely opposite character), finally leading us to believe the romance between her and Kakuro, the new tenant, is all but "written in the stars" when sorry, I didn't see any chemistry between the characters, and thought all the intimacy scenes were awkward, not believable. And I don't want to speak about the ending, so contrived, and yes, it has been done before, way better, by a host of great filmmakers. There is not much of a "social context", strange for a French film. Only the occasional touch of "class struggle" from Renée when she says she conforms to the stereotype people have of her job (true), or when she is literally not seen by the other posh tenants when she undergoes the classic "Cinderella" transformation. All with signs of the difference money makes, like the lent dress she wears, contrast this with the ultra expensive flat of Kakuro, playing the Requiem in the toilet and with a kitchen that looks from a designer magazine.
Ariane Ascaride plays a likable secondary role, she's the most natural of all the cast by far. There are a lots of cats in the film. Palmoa of course has some nuggets of child wisdom, like when she notices: "don't let the cat out, nor the concierge in". But they don't fit in at all in the story, which never seems to go anywhere, doesn't solve Paloma's "funny" grim outlook and suicidal tendencies, nor her family's idiosyncrasies. Her sister and father are just there for some "comic relief", but Paloma, like the concierge, is also a hedgehog, in the sense of she relating to the world only in her own terms. That, the refreshing outlook of children of our adult routine, should be enough material for a good film, and it has been. But my take anyway is that, like most recipes, sometimes it just doesn't work well...
I agree with Chris Knipp from IMDb that Paloma is ridiculously clever, there are no clues on how Kakuro transformed his apartment or where does he get all the cash, and basically, how this film has the classic structure of a best seller: "Its simplifications are satisfying, if you don't go too deep".
This is such a warm, sad, inspiring, knowing movie. I add this review
only because I have not yet read the book, and many reviews reference
the book. The movie absolutely stands on its own for those who have not
(yet) read the book. I can't imagine anyone not rushing out to read the
book once seeing the movie.
The blurbs do not, and cannot, do it justice.
Ten lines are needed for a review, which is why it is necessary to say much more. Indeed, it must be completely impossible to successfully review a movie in less than ten lines. As we all know, without a full ten lines, no real thought can be communicated. There. Ten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Again, I read the book, then watched the film, and while the book was good, the film does a better job of making the point at the end. In this story, a precocious, articulate little girl decides to kill herself because she doesn't want to wind up like her wealthy (and embarrassing) parents. As an antidote to her family life, she makes friends with her apt. house's female concierge, right around the time that a wealthy Japanese man moves in, and as the girl counts down the days until she offs herself, the three become friends, particularly the concierge and the new arrival. This comes to an end when someone is killed and the little girl, in the film, comes face-to-face with random, meaningless death-and finds it necessary to make that make sense. The film hints that the abrupt ending of the life of someone close to her forces her to reconsider her suicide plan. This film does a better job of making that point than the book did. It's good in a way that the French do a much better job with than American filmmakers (usually). It doesn't fall into any preconceived category other than, maybe, "character study". I like character studies.
I have to agree with the previous reviewer on the need for sensitivity in the viewer of this film. The story is conveyed without forcefulness. It is a bit melancholy but is also gently heartwarming bringing both tears and laughter. In the end I felt wistful but I was smiling. It gives insight into the life of a lone wolf personality and conveys the misconceptions that a person can have when they believe that no one around them accepts or understands them. The self ostracizing that happens when there is fear of being disliked. However, I am an American, so perhaps I can not understand this film as another reviewer has implied,(they must have met some American tourists, even in America our tourists are avoided for their lack of social graces).
The main character is a girl who feels trapped in her upper-class, politically important, generally high-strung family and deals with it by filming their every move with a video camera her governmental-minister father gives her, while whispering a merciless voice-over as the camera records. It's great to see a movie about people's secret lives bringing them together, the endless creativity that follows from watching what actually happens, and completely improbable friendships mattering more than anything else. None of the characters ever really leave their various apartments in a big building in a wealthy part of Paris, but quite a lot of ordinary and very entertaining things happen. The film is about people adopting each other across social barriers--but that doesn't quite capture it either. This is the French version of feel-good, which means it stays intellectual while being the opposite of cynical about whether people can connect with each other. I really liked it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Although Ariane Ascaride has only a supporting role here the quality and texture of the beautiful film are reminiscent of Ascaride's Brodeuses and probably to watch the two as a double feature would be overwhelming. Okay, it took about one reel to get me hooked but after that it was joy all the way - even the melancholic aspects. Josie Balasko is as outstanding here as was Ascaride is Brodeuses and makes us forget completely her previous much more in-your-face roles, but it would be wrong to single out one performer from three Brilliant leading players and an exceptionally strong supporting cast that in addition to Ascaride includes Ann Brochet, who has never really found her niche but has nevertheless enhanced several films, not least Rappenau's Cyrano de Bergerac. When writing about Brodeuses I said that it was the kind of film that gave Art House a good name, Le Herrison is another and I await the chance to purchase the DVD.
This concierge lives a dull life on the surface. She,s fat, ugly and
unkind. In her own views anyway. But she has her cat and her books.
Just quality literature.
Then this 11-year-old girl turns up, who lives in a truly dysfunctional family. And so does this old cultivated Japanese man. He sees her and the girl sees her. And they also see what's inside the hedgehog.
A warm and hopeful film about a character you meet every day, anywhere, and don't think much about. Which obviously is a mistake. People who are seen will show things you never thought you and they had. Regardless of their hedgehog physiognomy
This is a very charming and thought-provoking movie. It displays prejudice and stereotyping, to deliver the message that every person is a person, independently of their role in our lifes. But some people assimilate their roles to the point of forgetting they're much more themselves. The story develops slowly, at the perfect pace, in a dynamic way, allowing the viewer to assimilate the many different points that are developed at the same time. The different image types (from the movie itself, and from Paloma's filmings) help keep it interesting. Added to the beautiful soundtrack, it leads you to the mood where you'll open your mind to the questions the director wanted you to think about. The acting is also superb, specially Josiane Balasko. With an original story and engaging characters, this is a must see. And must think, afterwards.
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