Renée (superbly played by comedienne, actress and director Josiane Balasko) is the fifty-something short, squat and always grumpy super of one of those buildings in Paris qualified as “standing,” meaning of understated luxury.
Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) is a precocious, nerdy and observant twelve-year-old who lives in that building. Determined to commit [existential] suicide on her thirteenth birthday, in the meantime she records on video the world around her in which she sees more than what first catches the eye. For one thing, she soon understands that the sour expression of Renée, the concierge, hides surprising other layers. Then there’s Mr. Ozu (Togo Igawa), a Japanese gentleman tenant, who also sees through Renée.
As a matter of fact, he quickly discovers the seeming hedgehog to be a cultured, refined woman, lover of literature in general and Tolstoy in particular, and who lives a secret life filled with the arts. No wonder that such a woman would, after a moment’s hesitation, feel comfortable with the designer togs he offers her and the fancy restaurants he takes her to.
What is one to make of this delightful, subdued and profound feature film by first-time director Mona Achache, based on the well-received novel by Muriel Barbery? Is it about redemption, about our quick judgments based on appearance only, about the many families sharing one building but little of each others’ lives? The Hedgehog is all that but much more than the sum of its parts. Above all, in the tumult of cineplexes, 3-D, CGI and superheroes and the gross comedies or weepy Hallmark offerings of summer, it restores our faith in the power of film to move us, make us think, and stay with us.