The Hedgehog (Le Herisson)
by Elaine Hegwood Bowen
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The Hedgehog is a movie about a young Parisian girl named Paloma who has vowed to commit suicide before her 12th birthday. Why? Because her family members are snobs and super rich, and she doesn’t want to subject herself to being scrutinized inside what she calls a “fishbowl” when she matures into another snobby adult—this is how she describes it.
After the death of a long-time tenant, who nobody seemed to miss and neighbors were only wondering how long the apartment would be vacant, Paloma takes to videotaping every aspect of her life, to her parents’ and sister’s annoyance. She is doing this to leave a sort of living history of what she was feeling and experiencing before her impending suicide. She has figured out an exact measurement for the amount of pills out of her mother’s cabinet that it will take to finish her off. And she is counting down the days.
But for some reason, Paloma is transformed, and her stance on suicide changes when she becomes more involved in the lives of the female superintendent named Renee who works in the building and Renee’s relationship with a male Japanese tenant Mr. Ozu, who is also a widower and who lives on one of the upper floors.
The movie is called The Hedgehog because Paloma sees the superintendent as an older woman with a rough exterior but with a kind, mushy interior. For some reason, Renee doesn’t feel worthy of the Japanese suitor’s attention; she feels that she is old, illiterate and unattractive, and that life with any thrills attached to it has passed her by. But Paloma enjoys this exchange between the super and the tenant; not understanding that the help doesn’t necessarily mingle with the rich apartment owners.
Renee’s friend helps her out with her first date with Mr. Ozu by insisting that she gets a haircut and she loans her a dress from the cleaners where she works. Mr. Ozu barely recognizes Renee after the transformation. But the two share a good time in his apartment, which has a boudoir that tickles the fancy (no pun intended) of the super. They continue on a few dates; he buys her gifts, and they even leave his apartment to go to a restaurant. Meanwhile, Paloma resents going to therapy and even having her mother see a therapist for a decade with no noticeable results.
All isn’t happy toward the end, even though Paloma decides that life is worth living. A tragic ending meets the super, which devastates everyone. However, in the end, Paloma has made a new friend in Mr. Ozu and decides that her existence and watching her snobby parents and sister isn’t enough to cause her to take her own life.
The Hedgehog is a movie about love, triumph, friendship and maturity, inspired by the best-selling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog written by Muriel Barbery. It opens August 19 in theaters in New York and Los Angeles. It’s a great movie; look for it in your area soon.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is an editor, writer and film critic in Chicago.
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