Friday, August 26, 2011


The Hedgehog (Le hérisson)

The Hedgehog Like it or not, we all live in a heterogeneous environment where people are from different classes, hold different statuses, and reflect society's inequality. How we interact with people outside our own domain can be very different based on our understanding and empathy toward them. Often, that interaction does not exist at all. Based on a best-selling novel, Mona Achache's impressive feature directorial debut "The Hedgehog" (Le hérisson | France 2009 | in French | 100 min.) is an excellent film about discovering friendship and love beyond the underline boundary of social circles.

The film's narrator is an artistic and articulate eleven-year-old girl, Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) who lives in an up-scale Parisian apartment building and despises the wealth of the riches and the emptiness of their souls. She determines not to be one of them like her parents, and decides to end her life on her 12th birthday. She uses her dad's camcorder to make a film as her last testimony about her dramatic ending of her life. While running around shooting with her camcorder, she discovers a secret of the reserved 54-year-old concierge lady Renée (Josiane Balasko) who lives downstairs with her cat Leo, named after Leo Tolstoy—Renée is a bookworm and has her own world behind her closed door.

However, Renée's unkempt outlook doesn't escape the notice from an observant and polite wealthy Japanese tenant Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) who just moves in the building. Despite the obvious difference in their social status, Kaburo's charmingly offers Renée his friendship. Ignoring any potential prejudice, they lighten up each other's life in this clearly divided building.

Josiane Balasko (R) and Togo Igawa in The Hedgehog

Even the film's touching story sounds like a fairy tale, the fable is beautifully told by young write/director Mona Achache. The film artfully illustrates the elegant and sophisticated side of Renée's character, which doesn't resemble her labor duty during the day when she is invisible to most of the rich tenants in the building. The heartwarming romance between Kaburo and Renée is delicately developed and wonderfully displayed like a sushi platter by a skilled Japanese chef.

However, the rhythm of the film seems constantly disrupted by the restless Paloma. Perhaps Kaburo and Renée should have traveled to some remote location without Paloma around in order to proceed their courtship, Kaburo must be able to afford it. That brings another paradox of the film—on one hand, the film tells us not to judge a book by its cover; on the other hand, Renée gets a makeover before she shines and goes on a date with Kaburo. Being rich does provide benefits sometimes. Is Paloma learning this lesson too?

With terrific performance, this beautiful film affirms us that love can be found and felt, if we are brave enough to embrace and express it, regardless who we are.

"The Hedgehog" a NeoClassics Films release, opens on Friday, August 26, 2011 at Bay Area theaters.

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