Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is something of an anomalous 11-year-old child; highly intelligent and intuitive. But she is also consumed by the fatalistic supposition that her “luck” and her family's “wealth” have predetermined that she is heading straight “for the fishbowl”, an apparent world “where adults bang like flies on the glass.” Her perceived ability to be a free individual, irrevocably quashed by her staunch upper class breeding, has convinced her that the only possible way out is death. Paloma resolves to kill herself on her 12th birthday and, in the some 165 days leading up to it, proposes to document the conditions of her life that have forced this decision, her objective to make “a film that shows why life is so absurd.” Of course, as with all creative ventures, Paloma's pre-suicide project is subject to extraneous interception.
Along with Paloma, the mansion's concierge, Madame Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko) is something of an outsider in such high society. It is at this point that Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), a refreshingly kind, charming man from a foreign background (and therefore someone not born into the French “bourgeoisie”) moves into the opulent, Art Nouveau mansion. His presence immediately alters the temperature of the once staid building, opening up a new space where conservative values no longer dictate social decorum. As Paloma finds a reason to live, Renée, the proverbial hedgehog, “prickly but elegant”, a woman whose subtle sophistication and astute observations on the actuality of life have been keep secret, tucked away in small quarters for many years, begins to show her tender, inner beauty.
For me, this film is almost perfect; exemplary in its nuanced presentiment and slow-build tension that arrests its audience from the outset; its dry humour laden with melancholy as it gently segues into poignant, breathtaking tragedy. Passionate about cinematic affect, The Hedgehog is a film that stands out for me; despite its ability to venture into whimsicality (as so oft contemporary French cinema is wont to do) it always remains grounded by its well observed character performances.
In terms of my own personal reaction to the film, I found its greatest success to be its ability to operate on many levels; it is as humanist as it is theoretical and philosophical. Rich with cultural references (literary, filmic, and social), The Hedgehog is a film that recalls for me both the psychogeographic nature of my time spent in France as well as the experience of studying Contemporary French Cinema in England; my professor a hedgehog herself, of sorts.
My love for French cinema has taken something of a journey over the past few years and has at times been as tenuous as it has tender. Having quietly fostered a concern for the blockbustering of popular French film since Amelie (2001) hit cinema screens, The Hedgehog has absolutely reconfirmed my love for the almost impossible balance that the French seem to so soundly and effortlessly display when offering a comedy/drama that is both genuinely funny and yet honestly moving.
Watch The Hedgehog at SBS On Demand now