The Hedgehog (DVD)

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The Hedgehog (DVD)

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Review of "The Hedgehog (DVD)"

published 01/05/2015 | koshkha
Member since : 26/12/2005
Reviews : 1434
Members who trust : 327
About me :
I've been here a very long time and even though I've been dormant the last year, I will miss Ciao enormously.
Pro A super plot and some excellent actors
Cons Clunky cinematography
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Characters / Performances
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"Not a Hedgehog in Sight - just a sweet French film"

Never obvious

My sister has a reputation for giving unexpected presents. There was the portable Swingball set she gave me for my birthday a couple of years ago, some very strange CDs that have me wondering who she really thinks I am, and who could forget the large felt penguin for Christmas before last? Admittedly I have given her a large plastic cat garden planter and a very unusual toilet roll holder but all’s fair in love and family. This year’s surprises included a DVD called ‘The Hedgehog’.

My sister knows that I have a weakness for hedgehogs. We have a hedgehog house in the garden and I periodically wonder out loud whether I should go and adopt a rescued hedgehog. All of this - of course - has absolutely nothing to do with the film which has nothing to do with hedgehogs. I don’t know if my sister knew it was nothing to do with hedgehogs and I’m sure she wouldn’t have known that I had read the book on which the film is based. ‘The Hedgehog’ - a.k.a. ‘Le Herrison’ in its original French - is the film adaptation of a French best-selling book called ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ by Muriel Barbery. If you want to know more about the book, I’ve reviewed it here on Ciao so please have a look.

On Friday evening we had a shuffle through the pile of unwatched DVDs and I suggested ‘The Hedgehog’. My poor husband was initially quite disappointed that it wasn’t about hedgehogs but he soon got into the film. It was a crazy idea to watch a slow-moving, subtitled French film on a Friday night when I traditionally fall asleep on the sofa after a glass of wine. It was quite hard-going. A subtitled film really does need you to pay a lot more attention than one in your own language. And this is a film that needs you to properly pay attention as it’s rather subtle.

People and Plot

In a chic and expensive Parisian apartment block lives Paloma (played by Garance Le Guillermic) an 11 year old girl who has decided to kill herself on her 12th birthday. She is fiercely intelligent, over-privileged and bored with life. Given to deep introspection and self-analysis, she observes her family who amuse but mostly annoy her. Mother talks to her plants and ticks over with the regular use of prescription drugs. Father is a tired workaholic and her sister is an intellectual lightweight who irritates Palma deeply mostly for just being a normal, rather shallow teenager. Paloma is going to kill herself because life seems so futile. In her mind, her future would be lived like a goldfish in a bowl.

The goldfish gets a lot of attention - and occasional abuse - and serves as both a metaphor for a privileged life and as a visual focus for Paloma’s home movie making. Garance Le Guillermic is a young actress who successfully plays the role of a child who behaves like a middle-aged woman in a tiny body. I’m amazed that such a young girl could be so convincing in the role.

The heroine - and I use the term lightly as there’s nothing conventional about her - is Renee, the concierge (Josiane Balasko) who spends her life trying to be totally invisible and unnoticeable. She has a secret intellectual passion for literature, arty films and philosophy. She’s a frumpy 54-year old widow who lives alone with her ‘fat tom cat’ and her books and the make-up ladies probably didn’t have to spend a lot of time tarting her up before filming each day. If this had been an American film rather than a French one, they’d have done an ‘Ugly Betty’ and made a gorgeous actress wear thick glasses and a brace and have a bad haircut. Every viewer would have known she was actually gorgeous in real life. The French, being the French, are less obvious. They’ve given us a very plain, short, chubby woman with no make up, a bad haircut and dreadful cardigans. She is entirely believable and there is no sudden revamp into a gorgeous beauty. She does get her hair cut and gets some nicer clothes but the Hollywood makeover is not applied.

Renee is a lonely woman who’s happy being lonely when she can spend her time with her books and her cat. As an aside, it has to be noted that there are some BEAUTIFUL cats in this film and their acting is immaculate. My husband kept saying “How did they get the cat to do that?”

One of the apartments becomes available when the elderly owner dies. The apartment is taken on by Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), a wealthy and cultured Japanese man. On the day he moves in, Renee slips up and makes a comment in response to something he asks her - “All happy families are the same” she says, accidentally quoting Tolstoy. Ozu instantly counters “Each unhappy family is unique” and Renee knows her image as an illiterate concierge is blown. This is a quote from Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ (the normal translation is more elegant than that used in the film’s subtitles - “All happy families resemble one another, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”) and Kakuro makes Renee a gift of two beautiful volumes of Anna Karenina.

All the lonely people where do they all come from?

We have three lonely people; a young girl, a dowdy widow concierge, and a wealthy widower. Each has spent a long time pretending they’re better off on their own. Barriers are broken down, walls removed, the three become friends - Renee entertaining Paloma in her concierge apartment, Kakuro inviting Renee for home-cooked Japanese food and to watch old movies, Paloma going to Kakuro for Japanese conversation classes. The three get to know each other slowly and gently and mostly in pairs, seldom all three together. As each lets down their guard, life gets better and more fulfilling. Paloma describes Renee to Kakuro as ‘a hedgehog’ - all prickles on the outside but cuddly underneath and it’s a great simile. Underneath her prickly, drably dressed, poorly coiffed and un-made-up exterior, lies a woman with elegant aspirations and a rich inner intellectual life.

So is it any good?

If I had loved the book, I might have come to the film differently and expecting more but I didn’t love the book. On the page, I found the wallowing self-indulgence of arty farty showing off irritating in the extreme. I skipped all the ‘Philosophy 101’ chunks to get back to the proper plot. And the film has none of that stuff that I hated but kept all of the plot and characters that I loved. The film removes all that annoying smugness and delivers a very pared down, minimalist interpretation of the story.There are some clever devices such as Paloma’s pen and ink drawings which add charm and humour to the film whilst others - most notably the home videos - are just rather annoying.

Stylistically there’s a lot to annoy in this film and visually it’s not a comfortable film to watch. There are long periods of silence, only the patchiest use of background music, irritating graininess to indicate when the home video is being used, and a bizarre and other worldly use of very strange lighting that makes the film feel deeply amateurish or rather contrived. I can’t help feeling it’s been made with the intention of setting assignments for first year ‘media studies’ students because there’s so much to stimulate discussion. The films roughness and raw edges make it difficult to just relax and enjoy it because half of your mind is constantly asking “Why did they do that? Is this intentionally awkward and amateurish or just not very well made?”

The eternal book versus film question

Do you need to have read the book to enjoy the film? I’d say you don’t but if you have read the book and know the plot, knowing that it’s going to get better might keep you watching long enough to get past the clunky opening and the awkward cinematography. I half expected my husband to give up and go and do something else but he stuck with it and I think he really enjoyed it - even if he was more charmed with the cats and the goldfish than with the characters. Many people will criticise film adaptations if the actors don’t align with their mental image of the characters but in this case each is exactly as I pictured them and the casting is perfect.

There’s a shocker in this film - don’t worry, no spoilers - and even though I knew it was coming because I’d read the book, it still hit hard. It’s as bold and unexpected on the screen as it was on the page, possibly even more so. I can only say that I’m very glad that this film was made by a French cast and crew and not an American one because I fear the Hollywood treatment would have insisted on a happy ending and would have required Renee to become beautiful just to keep the audience happy. This is warts and all, pain and suffering and nobody gets to cut out the nasty bits or have the ugly become suddenly beautiful and the unpleasant become suddenly friendly and warm.


If you like Die Hard movies, lots of action, films where everyone lives happily ever after and nobody ever goes out without immaculate full make-up and clothes, give this one a miss. Equally if you like your films polished in every way, the unfinished feel of some of the scenes in this may irritate. You have to work a bit at getting through this and you have to be willing to forgive some of the clunky filming, the odd lighting and the frequent lack of background soundtrack. But the cats are cute, the story is brave and it’s worth 73 minutes of your life. Possibly better not to watch it on a Friday night when you’re feeling sleepy.


There are a couple of special features - one on the making of the film and one with deleted scenes. I’ve not watched either but for those who love extras, they are there.

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Comments on this review

  • Secre published 18/08/2015
    Sounds worth a gander!
  • a-true-ben published 11/06/2015
    Not sure it's for me.
  • Violet1278 published 02/06/2015
    A superb review. E from me.
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Product Information : The Hedgehog (DVD)

Manufacturer's product description

Product Details

Country Of Origin: France

Genre: Drama

DVD Region: DVD

Actor: Josiane Balasko

Director(s) (Last name, First name): Achach, Mona

Title: T

EAN: 5060093150155

Classification: 12 years and over

Video Category: World Cinema Feature Film

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes


Listed on Ciao since: 18/04/2015