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A light but emotionally heady confection from France, The Hedgehog seems at first to be the story of 11-year-old Paloma (Le Guillermic), a precocious and deeply introverted child who early on announces her intentions to end it all on her 12th birthday. Feeling existential almost all the time, Paloma obsesses over the meaninglessnewss of life in what she calls her “fishbowl." She is also artistically inclined and never without her Hi-8 video camera. Living in a Paris apartment building alongside her utterly ordinary family, Paloma, with her wild mane of blond hair and very serious spectacles, looks a bit like a hedgehog herself. Although Paloma provides charming voiceover narration to the banal events occurring around her, the titular spiny mammal is in fact the building's concierge, Mme. Michel (Balasko), a rotund, middle-aged woman whose chilly exterior hides a secret romantic yearning to break free. Trés française.
In between prickly conversations with the tenants and cleaning up after them, Mme. Michel retires to a book-lined vestibule off her own apartment, where she immerses her hidden heart in Anna Karenina and cares for her cat Leo (Tolstoy, natch). Enter the dapper new tenant Kakuro Ozu (Igawa), who has both an eye for literature and, perhaps, for dowdy Mme. Michel. Watching this unlikely, slow-motion courtship unfold, Paloma, camera ever at the ready, becomes transformed and possibly less inclined toward girlish self-destruction.
Le Guillermic is fine in this calm comedy of subverted exteriors and expectations, but it's the remarkably unpretentious – earthy, even – Balasko who anchors Achache's adaptation of Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Mme. Michel may have her pride, but it's clear she long ago abandoned any ideas about a romance of her own. The arrival of the handsome and erudite Monsieur Ozu (the name is surely no coincidence) precipitates a sea change in not only Mme. Michel's life but, in the interconnected life of the apartment building as a whole. And for Paloma, heaven, suddenly, can wait.