Reader Request: The Hedgehog (France)

hedgehog poster

When you’re a kid, everything seems to be either the best or worst. That one piece of candy you eat is the greatest thing you’d ever tasted. On the other side, that one time your dad yelled at you was the worst moment ever and he obviously doesn’t care about you. As a result, when a movie like The Hedgehog centers its story on a hyper-intelligent eleven-year-old who plans to commit suicide, I am hesitant to accept her reasoning as justified, or even absolute. Luckily, The Hedgehog works as an excellent character study for adults and children alike.



Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is so exasperated by the “hypocritical” nature of adults that she has decided to kill herself on her twelfth birthday. A depressingly dark theme, yes, but writer/director Mona Achache does not allow it to be the overarching theme of the film. Paloma’s melancholy is stemmed by new friendships with the wise, charismatic new tenant Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) and the curmudgeonly, yet brilliant, superintendent Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko).

As mentioned, Paloma is incredibly quick-witted and knowledgeable of the world—how many eleven-year-olds teach themselves Japanese? Hedgehog uses this as a way of showing how intelligence can be life altering, but also jades an individual, preventing life from being enjoyed in its entirety. Since the character is a mere child, the effect of this cynicism is more apparent than ever.


Paloma’s self-awareness allows her to see things typical children would ignore. In particular, she is poignantly aware of her mother’s addiction to therapy (and the subsequent prescriptions) and her father’s addiction to occupational status. One underrated piece of the film is Paloma’s teenage sister, who, unlike Paloma, acts her age in every way.

Curiously, the film chooses to shift away from Paloma rather quickly. The blossoming friendship between Renee and Kakuro conquers Paloma’s tale and shows a deeper theme of acceptance. Renee has been the super at her building most of her life and her tenants treat her as they’d expect a super to be treated, with grumpy calls and incessant nagging. She may be of lower class origins, but Renee has taken extra care to educate herself through classic literature such as Tolstoy. Kakuro automatically sees this sophisticated underbelly and brings Renee out of her shell in a touching, gentle manner.

Josiane Balasko as RenŽe Michel in ``The Hedgehog.''

The Hedgehog is a slow burn. Each and every scene is specifically chosen to shed light on the characters and allows for personality traits to appear and grow. However, the characters are developed so brilliantly and with such subtle nuance that the film reaches a point of no return. Too much time had been spent creating these genuine roles and not enough had been devoted to applying a conflict around which they rally and grow.

Consequently, the climax is haphazardly included at the end of the film, culminating in ennui and confusion. It gives the impression that the writer needed an ending and chose one by chance regardless of whether it fit the story or now. We are given these amazing characters, and nothing to predict for their growth in the future. To overanalyze, it’s a testament to the finality of death, as perpetrated by Paloma’s narration, and its place in life as the ultimate end.

The Hedgehog is an excellent film that I would strongly suggest watching simply to experience the build of some amazing characters that emulate life itself. This is a rare film, however, that is hampered by the limits of the feature film setting. The Hedgehog would be much better served as a miniseries than a film, but still finds a way to be attractive.

    • movie snob
    • June 18th, 2013

    Your review rightly points out the failure of American cinema to develop characters and rely instead on action in place of story. French films can lag a bit, but patience in viewing is almost always rewarded. Thanks.

    • meg murphy
    • June 18th, 2013

    Right on the button Michael ~ glad you enjoyed it. The book s better!!

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