The Hedgehog a Gem and a Delight

Is a future star peeking out from that frizzled mane?


Directed by Mona Achache

100 mins. (French with subtitles)

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The Hedgehog is that rarest of stories: one that works as well on the screen as it does on the printed page. Those who loved Muriel Barbery’s novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (L’élégance du hérisson) will find a few changes in the film, but most of them work brilliantly. It’s now in distribution across North America and you should rush to see it.

Those unfamiliar with the story may find the story line troubling. The film centers on Paloma Josse (Garance Le Guillermic), the precocious eleven-year-old daughter of an upper-class dysfunctional Parisian family. She lives with a disinterested father, a neurotic mother, and a narcissistic older sister in a ritzy apartment complex supervised by a widowed concierge, Renée Michel (Josiane Balsako). Paloma identifies with the family’s goldfish and sees life as an exercise in frustration akin to bumping into the sides of the bowl. Life is so futile, in fact, that she plans to kill herself on her twelfth birthday, has stockpiled pills pilfered from her mother’s stash, and is busy videotaping her thoughts on the shallowness of existence and her own impending death.

Does this sound like fun? It is! I don’t want to give away too much, but let’s say that it’s not a suicide film; it’s about social class, philosophy, art, and literature. It’s about the ways in which class status and being classy is not the same thing. Above all it’s about the things we don’t see even when they’re right in front of us. Le Guillermic is riveting as Paloma--a frizzy-haired, stripped-shirted bundle of contradiction who is all of eleven in one moment, but wiser than her elders the next. The frumpy Renée is the film’s hedgehog, prickly on the outside, but possessive of an inner intellect, kindness, and curiosity that can only be seen by those who bother to look: Paloma and a new Japanese neighbor, the widower Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa). The three make up a mismatched set of musketeers, but a trio that slices away pretense to reveal essential and aesthetic truths.

Novel readers will notice that Paloma has been transformed from a diarist to an artist and videographer. This works spectacularly. The film’s small details come together as a gorgeous visual mélange and relieve the screenplay--cowritten by Barbery--of the difficulty of filming a writer’s inner thoughts. There are a few things readers will miss. The film doesn’t probe philosophy with the depth of the novel and key relationships between Renée, fellow domestic Manuela, and their mentally challenged neighbor, Tibére, are pared to the bone.

But one can only do so much in 100 minutes and the film does a remarkable job of preserving the book’s essence. Watch out for young Garance Le Guillermic; she who bears the first name of the heroine of the classic Children of Paradise looks as if she’s capable of a few classics of her own.


Long Time Courting Debut Crisp and Sublime


Alternate Routes


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Long Time Courting open their debut CD with “Maggie Dean,” a song about a lass who disguises herself as a lad to go to sea. Call it a sly get-over-it message to those who still think the idea of women playing Celtic music is exotic. LTC consists of Sarah Blair, Ariel Friedman, Shannon Heaton, and Liz Simmons, and the important thing to know is that they’re very, very good. Each is a fine singer and they have the sense to try new things with old material, such as rendering "Barbara Allen" atop drone-like cello. In many ways, though, the instrumentals dazzle even more. The title track is scaffolded by Simmons’ bold guitar, swoops to Heaton’s flute, comes back to earth with the deep resonance of Friedman’s cello, and takes flight anew courtesy of Blair’s edgy fiddle ornaments. Sets such as “In the Doghouse” evoke the rhythms and grooves of Lúnasa, but it’s inevitable that this lineup will be labeled as New England’s rejoinder to Cherish the Ladies. Not bad company to keep.

Here's a 2009 clip of concert in New Hampshire.