DIR/WRI: Mona Achache • PRO: Mark Lombardo, Anne-Dominique Toussaint • DOP: Patrick Blossier • ED Julia Gregory • DES: Patrick Schmitt • CAST: Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa
This is Mona Achache’s debut feature film as writer and director and tells the story of 11-year-old Paloma, whose pessimistic tween goggles peer out with disdain upon her family and the world they represent – so much so that she has come to the decision to kill herself on her twelfth birthday. Her despairing perspective begins to change though as she shares moments with the concierge of the apartment block, a frumpy, well-read woman, and a new resident, an enigmatic, well-mannered gentleman.
Inspired by Muriel Barbery’s bestselling novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, Achache has fashioned a film that has its decent moments but fails to reach the heights it aspires to. There is a fine film here somewhere trying to get out but it’s bogged down by the flawed narrative of its driving story. Garance Le Guillermic, who plays Paloma, does a fine job turning her Hi-8 camera on the world around her but the film’s use of her monologues to lay siege on the social structures that define her dysfunctional family fall flat and come across as too stagy and ineffectual.
In fact it is the awakening of Renée halfway through the film that engages the viewer. Beautifully played by Josiane Balasko, she is the hedgehog of the film – ‘prickly on the outside but elegant and refined on the inside’ – she takes refuge in her basement apartment with its shelves jammed with books. Until she meets the in-moving Kakuro (Togo Igawa) and their shared love for Anna Karenina kicks off their relationship. Quoting lines from the book and having a cat called Leo is a dead giveaway for Kakuro. Balasko really doesn’t have that much to do but conveys emotions far beyond her words, perfectly capturing Renée’s longing in subtle gestures and anguished moods. Despite Kakuro being a rather unbelievable character, there are some genuinely moving moments between them as their relationship evolves at an unforced pace and blossoms.
Moving away from the eccentricities of an 11-year-old rich girl, the film redeems itself somewhat in its moments of tenderness and Balasko’s performance is to be recommended, but for the most part The Hedgehog remains unsatisfactory as it points to the possibility of much better things had it been reimagined and perhaps with a more experienced Achache at the helm. And let’s not even go near the ending…
The Hedgehog is released on 2nd September 2011