Pretty glad that I spent a breezy afternoon to see the last showing of Mona Achache's "The Hedgehog" at the Neon Movies. A most delightful viewing treasure!
Two seemingly different female protagonists center this French indie feature- Paloma, an intelligent, very gifted eleven-year-old planning suicide before her next birthday and there's Renée Michel, the fifty-year-old apartment super who when not cleaning up the mess of her aristocratic tenants devours chocolates and reads an illustrious world of classical books alongside a lazy fat cat.
Feeling like the richly shallow life is as boring as a water filled goldfish bowl, Paloma's chaos includes an annoyed father who sweeps a secret cigarette habit under the rug, a neurotic mother who cries so often its pathetic, and a wickedly snobbish sister, Columbe while Ms. Michel enjoys solitary pleasure.
Both women are seeking refuge- Paloma makes it her business to hide
anywhere in the apartment, filming every bit of the adults faults and
criticizing every crumbling flaw while Ms. Michel cloisters herself inside of an outer appearance, refusing to showcase an intellectually compelling mind.
Enter the new neighbor, Mr. Ezo, a Japanese gentleman takes the small community by storm, seeming to elevate the status of the apartment. Intelligent, cultured, and very successful, he takes an immediate shine to Ms. Michel, thinking her to be of worthy pursuit, especially since she quotes Tolstoy and has a cat named Leo. Infectiously charming schoolgirl shyness makes Ms. Michel appear youthful and beguiling as she starts to break out of a vulnerable shell, allowing herself albeit a bit hesitantly to fully emerge into the refined world that Mr. Ezo generously shares with her. He literally takes her outside of the written word and into places she never expected, to unexplored delights of companionship and the blossoming elements of a refreshing kind of love.
Though one could argue why would it take a man to show Ms. Michel the world? Couldn't she do that by herself? The answer is that she has already traveled far and wide, from coast to coast with the luxury of chocolate and Leo. In those volumes, rich in sophistication and cultivated gems, she has been everywhere and probably farther than most of her neighbors ever will.
And the sad thing is that only Paloma and Mr. Ezo know that truth.
With an observant Paloma stating to Mr. Ezo that she finds Ms. Michel to be just like a hedgehog, that underneath the concierge's "prickly" exterior, there's a soft, refined elegance. The young girl couldn't have been any more poetic, more concrete in her honest critique. Rather touching and eloquent, the most wonderful aspect was that Ms. Michel didn't have to be in the scene to hear it.
Whenever they're together, it's relevant that Paloma and Ms. Michel have a very special relationship that is genuinely unique and rarely captured in cinema- one planning to die and the other starting to live vivaciously!
In turn, it's Mr. Ezo and Paloma that make the once harsh, matronly looking Ms. Michel smile, interact, and become cordially inviting.
Yet just on the brink of an amazing rebirth, a captivating transformation
that transcends physical appearance, tragedy strikes unexpectedly rocking the lives of the three intertwined individuals.
Another liberating aspect of "The Hedgehog" is to see an adolescent girl embracing her creative genius, being energetic, taking action, and having a grand scheme of ideas. The camera pans majestically towards her wall of marvelous squares, making some of her black stroked marks come to life in short animation. One of the most memorable scenes is a pen study of Ms. Michel, a woman closeted in a well-refined atmosphere, a haven that is a most inspiring place to Paloma. That in which is turned into a little pop up gift, that immensely delights Ms. Michel.
While her sister, Columbe is hellbent on not being on camera, perhaps not too eager to reveal her destructive and spoiled sensibilities, Ms. Michel is much braver, expelling the humility behind a grand facade, emptying the crevices of a barren heartbroken soul as Paloma records. The woman may have considered herself "fat, ugly, and lonely" but she enjoyed her modest seclusion- laughing and crying in between her rather blunt confessions.
Overall, though with humorous quips and warm hearted charm, the reality of the situation in Paloma's case is that the obsession with suicide is quite a serious topic, especially when she intentionally poisons her sister's goldfish, an important iconic element in the film. It's maddening to contemplate, much less put forth into action as she was taking one pill a week from her mother and one has to wonder what is her next phase after the audience exits. What will she continue recording? Will her creative spirit dissipate?
Such a wonderful film that raises pivotal questions about the deception of appearances, closely guarded enigmas, and the exteriors and interiors of the human psyche. Once the key to unlock the door is offered, would anyone even want to open that possibility or just walk away from curious intrigue and crush remarkable destiny?
"The Hedgehog" states that it's okay to let someone in, that one doesn't always have to relish in loneliness. Happening in the least expected of circumstances, sometimes companionship can be the most awe striking phenomenon.
In conclusion, giving a round of applause to Josiane Balasko and Garance La Guillermic for breathing life into Ms. Michel and Paloma. Their charismatic partnership just dazzles the screen! Will definitely look forward to viewing both of their past and future works- very commendable actresses! Kudos to Mona Achache for adapting Muriel Barbery's "The Elegance of the Hedgehog." Hopefully Achache has inspired other female directors and producers trying to carve out their place in this male dominated arena. She did a wonderful work, showing strengths, weaknesses, and vitality in these characters, creating a beautiful, humorous, sweetly engaging picture that I would watch over and over.