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This movie is like a cup of hot chocolate, a good book, and a cat
sleeping in your lap. It's warm, loving, funny, sad, intelligent and
Apologies, if the metaphor sounds cliché or boring. But nothing in the movie makes simple happiness, love, sadness, or loss look that way. Instead it treasures the lives of everyone and admires our faults and habits with the refreshing curiosity of an intelligent, rebellious little girl.
I was about to give it 8 stars... but then I thought about how I felt during the film and added one more star.. from my heart *sob*
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I have heard a lot of people say that this movie is "whimsical",
"stereotyped", "not very deep". I'll tell you all right now that this
film is my life. Change the names, the locations, and the details, and
I am this concierge. You can wait an awfully long time before another
person sees you. And after all it's been so long, you're not quite sure
what to do with it, it's not safe, shut the door on it. It's like being
institutionalized. And then something goes drastically wrong. Not a
heart-warmer, a heart-wrencher.
And this jewel of a child whom, again, nobody sees. I found nothing whimsical in my life being played out before me. Humorous, yes... whimsical and heart warming, no. Ten out of ten for the truth.
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.
French screenwriter and director Mona Achache's feature film debut
which she wrote, is inspired by French writer and professor in
philosophy Muriel Barbery's novel "The Elegance of the Hedgehog"
(2006). It was screened on numerous international film festivals and is
a France-Italy co-production which was shot in studio and produced by
Belgian-born French producer Anne-Dominique Toussaint. It tells the
story about an 11-year-old girl named Poloma Josse who lives in an
apartment building in Paris, France with her older sister and their
preoccupied parents. Poloma observes her family's daily routines
through her video-camera and is disheartened by her parents who she is
having a hard time communicating with. Though secretly holding a
countdown to her 12th birthday when she is planning to end her own
life, the intelligent young girl has change of heart when she becomes
acquainted with concierge Renée Michel who has been working at the
apartment building for many years and the new tenant Mr. Ozu, a
Japanese business man. Encountering two far more experienced and
intelligent people, Poloma learns to view life in a broader sense.
Finely and acutely directed by French filmmaker Mona Achache, this finely tuned fictional tale which is narrated from the protagonist's point of view, draws an incisive and intimate portrayal of a girl who most of the time sees her everyday life through a video-camera and perceives the people she associates with, which are mainly grown-ups, as objects of study. While notable for it's naturalistic milieu depictions and the fine production design by production designer Yves Brover, this character-driven and dialog-driven story which examines themes like loneliness, friendship, identity, interpersonal communication, family relations and interpersonal relations contains a good score by Lebanese composer Gabriel Yared.
This warm, humorous, atmospheric and life-affirming coming-of-age drama which is set in the capital city of France and where a girl learns that the little happenings in life that can open the mind to possibilities one never thought existed, is impelled and reinforced by it's cogent narrative structure, substantial character development, subtle continuity, mindful dialog, colorful characters and the understated and involving acting performances by French actress Josiane Balasko, Japanese actor Togo Igawa and French actress Garance Le Guillermic. A literary, affecting and memorable directorial debut which gained, among other awards, the Audience Award at the 36th Seattle International Film Festival in 2010.
In this adept and well-acted little sentimental charmer, a screen
adaptation of Muriel Barbery's bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog,
a precocious and artistic little rich girl, an intellectual concierge,
and a benevolent Japanese gentleman come together in a posh Parisian
apartment building for a brief period of understanding, communion, and
the beginnings of love. The story is a little like an episode from Kay
Thompson's Eloise, but set in Paris with philosophical and orientalist
touches, a girl who is more smug and priggish than cute and an
increasingly saccharine trajectory that is only just barely saved by a
Paloma (Garance Le Guillemic) is continually filming her annoying family, her Minister father, her mother who is addicted to Freudian analysis, tranquilizers, and champagne and makes more fuss over her plants than her daughter, her non-entity sister, and people in the corridor of the luxury five-unit apartment building. As she films, she describes everyone and everything for us in a whisper into the camera recorder. She has concluded that her life is a fish bowl from which there is no meaningful escape and therefore on her next birthday, her twelfth, she has decided she will commit suicide. Meanwhile she makes her films, stockpiles her mother's tranquilizers, and does drawings more likely for a professional illustrator than a sub-teen kid.
Meanwhile one of the wealthy residents dies of a heart attack, and the Japanese gentleman, Monsieur Ozu (no relation to the director, we learn later) moves into a flat miraculously and instantly converted into a palace of Zen minimalism with gray walls, black ceramics, and other delights, an oasis of quiet, aesthetic calm, and Japonism. Even the concierge, or building janitor (though the term today is usually "gardien," concierge being considered outmoded), Madame Michel (Josiane Balasko), has a place that's rather handsomely decorated; quite lovely wallpaper. Paloma's room is a throwaway, we get only glimpses of it, but it's obviously as elaborately crafted.
Madame lets Monsieur Ozu into his new place, and he discovers something: she has read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. And judging from the fact that her cat is named Léo, he correctly concludes she's a great fan of the Russian writer. He begins wooing her, starting by presenting her with an elegant two-volume edition of the novel. Other gifts and invitations follow, with dinner in Ozu's flat prepared by him, a private screening of a classic Japanese film on video that Madame Michel has, and finally a date at a posh sushi bar. With the help of a pal who's a lady dry cleaner, Madame Michel gets a complete makeover, with a fashionable haircut and nice clothes.
Paloma is ridiculously and ultimately unbearably clever, most of the other characters are mere objects, Monsieur Ozu is just an attractive gadget to draw Madame Michel out of her shell. Her place is full of books -- but TV-friendly too, though she probably keeps the set on with the sound off merely to play the role of the classic concierge -- an aging, overweight, ugly, irritable old bag who sits around watching TV all day. Madame Michel sits with a purring Léo (though Monsieur Ozu has even better cats, by the way) reading good books -- when she is not cleaning up in the courtyard and sidewalk and being wooed by the wealthy, mysterious Japanese gentleman (we never learn where the dough comes from).
Paloma, who partakes of some of the wisdom of novelist Barbery, a teacher of philosophy resident in Japan, announces during one of her monologues that she is sure Madame Michel is a "hedghog" (hérisson), prickly on the outside but possessed of an interior that's subtle and kind.
The Hedgehog/Le hérisson itself partakes of some of the essential qualities suited to international bestsellers. Its simplifications are satisfying, if you don't go too deep. Its world is appealing and somewhat exotic. Its truths are self-evident. To do her credit, the excellent Josiane Balasko gives a degree of complexity to her performance one could hardly expect from such material. She is, of course, the film's most many-layered character. At least she has the outer and inner layers Paloma attributes to the hedgehog. Paloma admires her because she has "found the perfect way to hide." She can spend hours in her back room with her great books, while appearing on the outside to be a frumpy old creature that people don't even see and never bother except to have her hold a package for them.
But the artificiality of ideas and the stereotypical nature of most of the characters make this, whatever its homely message of love and acceptance of life, altogether less humane and alive than a little film like François Dupeyron's 2003 Monsieur Ibrahim/Monsieur Ibrahim et les fleurs du Coran. That too was simplistic, but it had moments of life in it. Both films fade when compared to that other movie about a precocious girl's views, Julie Gavras' 2006 Blame It on Fidel/La faute à Fidel, which works through a child's sensibility to depict how -- from her viewpoint, anyway -- her family life goes quickly and irrevocably downhill when her parents become communist revolutionaries. Political realities stretch further than life lessons delivered in a completely contrived environment, even one in which a teenage boy can get laid.
This film received indifferent reviews in Paris after its summer (July 3, 2009) release, particularly from the more sophisticated media, but it looks like it might have good American art-house potential. It was part of the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema (jointly sponsored by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Unifrance) and screened at the Walter Reade Theater and the IFC Center, New York, in March 2010.
The Hedgehog (Le Herisson) Set in the back drop of a Parisian
bourgeoisie set of apartments, cared for by the prickly and seemingly
insignificant female janitor who has found the perfect place to hide
her intellect and wisdom, until she is uncovered by the new
sophisticated handsome tenant, who gentle knocks at her door and she
hesitantly at his. The story is documented and interwoven with the
intellectual cutting wit of a desolate poor little rich girl, with a
mission that never reaches reality but who finds solace in filming the
failure of her family life in the apartment above the janitor, with
whom she develops and a deep and meaningful relationship with . . It is
this failure/loss of love which bonds the three together in this
beautiful stunning film. Well scripted, beautifully shot, supreme
acting ..it leaves you ...well you really need to go and see it for
yourself...I did and think most people would love and agree that this
debut from Mona Achach. A first time feature film directer surpasses
that of amateur to auteur, with her adaptation of the novel The
Elegance of the Hedgehog, by Moroccan-born French novelist and
philosopher Muriel Barbery, which was one of the best selling books in
Running time 100 mins
A movie that started highly interesting then started slowly, but
steadily going south.
A unique movie starts with an 11 year old introducing herself in front if her Super8 camera and confesses that she's going to commit suicide on her 12th birthday which will take place in 169 days, and decides that her swan song be a movie she makes with that camera about life around her to show how absurd life really is that it's not really worth living, and thus goes on filming everyone around her.
What's really wrong with this movie IMO, is that at some point around the middle, it shifted the focus of the story from the little girl to the relation between the Japanese man and the Concierge Renee, and suddenly the young girl repressed to the background of the movie that we practically forget about her existence and her little secret plan.
The movie had lots of potential but the writer/director Mona Achache chose to take an adaptation that was a little bit off, with a non- uniform pacing and somewhat slow, yet sometimes very vibrant, character development, or rather the lack of in the case of the Japanese gentleman.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Diane and I watched this marvellous, non-Hollywood film this morning at
Luna SX in Fremantle and both of us enjoyed it greatly. The film was
adult, which sounds dumb because the main character was a pre-teenage
Parisian French girl who takes the viewer on a journey through a few
days of her life. This sounds kind of boring but the director, who was
working with an excellent script, turned this look into the life of,
not just her but other people in her family and other people in the
building and therein lays the substance of this warm and knowing film.
This young girl involves herself in the life of the 50 something female building live-in janitor who involves herself with a Japanese Parisian tenant and the three of them pass through those life passages that so many of us confront on our journey. I titled these comments Generational Passages because of this very touching meeting of two generations far removed from each other and that, among many other things, was what I took away from this film. Make every effort to see Hedgehog because you will not be disappointed.
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