The Hedgehog (Le Hérisson)
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Many movie lovers are understandably terrified of foreign films. After all, foreign filmmakers have somehow become rather notorious for their obscure philosophies, their deep symbolism, and their strange art house stories that don’t make a whole lot of sense. But, with The Hedgehog (or Le Hérisson), French director Mona Achache takes the kind of symbolism and philosophy that mainstream audiences fear the most and churns out a film that’s cleverly quirky and even surprisingly accessible.

Paloma Josse (Garance Le Guillermic) is a bored and generally ignored 11-year-old girl who lives in a posh Parisian apartment with her neurotic mother, her workaholic father, and her demanding older sister. After years of observing their lives and the lives of the other adults around her, she’s decided that adulthood holds nothing for her. The only solution, as she sees it, is to kill herself. And, in the 165 days until her twelfth birthday—the day when she’s decided to end it all—she wants to make a film that shows exactly why adult life is so pointless and stupid.

In the process of making her film and plotting her untimely demise, Paloma befriends Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), her gentlemanly new neighbor, and Renée Michel (Josiane Balasko), the building’s frumpy janitor. Through their new friendships, these outsiders’ lives are touched—and, along the way, Paloma learns some important lessons about death and life.

Inspired by Muriel Barbery’s novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Hedgehog is the kind of film that the French do so well. It’s smart and philosophical. It’s observantly cynical. It’s clever and whimsical and ultimately bittersweet. And, when it all comes to an end, you’ll most likely be left with more questions than you had when it began.

Despite its grim circumstances, though, the charming characters make The Hedgehog a surprisingly light film. Paloma may be suicidal, but she’s still absolutely delightful to watch. She’s thoughtful and creative and precocious—though not in same sugary way that most young film characters tend to be. She sees her family and the world around her in a way that only a super-serious little girl can. Her observations and revelations will make you think—and they’ll often make you laugh out loud, too.

Mrs. Michel, on the other hand, is a character who’s often seen in film: the dowdy middle-aged woman who gradually comes out of her shell. Yet Balasko’s portrayal brings life to the stereotypical character.

And then there’s Mr. Ozu—the unusual new neighbor whose arrival in the building changes everything for two of its residents. He brings sheer joy to the film with his upbeat outlook and his unreserved acceptance of his otherwise overlooked new friends (and his quirky Japanese toilet doesn’t hurt, either).

As Paloma announces at one point in the film, “If this has any meaning, it escapes me entirely.” And, admittedly, you may find yourself agreeing with her. Throughout the film, there are symbols and philosophies that will probably escape you entirely, too. And its contrived conclusion is the kind that you’ll neither expect nor want for these characters. But that doesn’t mean that The Hedgehog is too deep or profound or depressing to enjoy. It’s a quietly graceful and astutely observant film with lovable characters who might just inspire you to go out and make the most of your life while you can.

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