Directed by: Mona Achache
Written by:Muriel Barbery
Starring: Josaine Balasko, Garance Le Guillermic, Togo Igawa, Anne Brochet, Ariane Ascaride, Wladimir Yordanoff
Released: July 8, 2010
Grade: B

The Hedgehog is a slightly offbeat French drama with three central characters.  Paloma (Le Guillermic) is a 54-year-old janitor who services an apartment building filled with rich, well-to-do people.  She seldom says a word and always looks deflated as she goes about her duties.  I guess I would too in her situation.

Paloma’s husband passed away many years ago and she now shuts herself off from the world in her small apartment.  Her greatest satisfaction seems to come from reading classic novels and eating chocolate.  It’s a lonely existence and you can’t help but feel sorry for her.

Things change when an elderly Japanese man named Kakuro (Igawa) moves into an upper floor in the apartment building.  When the pair are introduced, Paloma unknowingly borrows a line from one of her favourite novels – Anna Karenina.  Kakuro picks up on the literary reference and he develops a curious fascination with Palmoa.  He realises that there’s more to her than meets the eye.

Caught in between is a strange young girl named Renée (Balasko).  She may only be 11-years-old but she’s incredibly intelligent.  She has an awkward relationship with her parents and spends most of her time sneaking around and filming people using her video camera.  Renée has made the decision to commit suicide on her 12th birthday.  She’s started a countdown and plans are put into place.

I have mixed feelings about The Hedgehog.  I liked the growing relationship with Paloma and Kakuro.  They share some beautiful moments together – particularly in the final third of the film.  It’s not explicitly spelt out with words but you know exactly what’s going through Paloma’s mind.  Given her insecure nature, she’s hesitant of Kakuro and his intentions.  Why would a wealthy guy like him be interested in a simple cleaner like her?  That said, she can’t help but be pulled in by his friendly demeanour.

On the flip side, I was somewhat disturbed by Renée storyline.  I actually thought she’d have more involvement with Kakuro and Paloma but her story seems almost secondary to the main attraction.  I found her hard to relate to and struggled to understand why someone so young would be so calculating in planning her own demise.  Put simply, I just didn’t like her.

I feel old when I realise that director Mona Achache is just 29 years of age.  I hope I haven’t left it too late to one day direct a film of my own.  The Hedgehog isn’t a bad effort for a first feature but I believe its focus on Renée’s character was the wrong approach.