The pre-teen 11 year old girl in Mona Achache’s The Hedgehog is one of the most delightful characters to watch on screen in the past few years. Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic) decides to kill herself in a few months on her 12th birthday because she cannot bear the thought of living the rest of her life in a fishbowl. In voiceover, this decision is not a melodramatic response to her perceived lot in life or depression, but the result of a particularly witty form of logic. Paloma is not portrayed as a girl genius because she is overly book smart, but because she has the firmest grasp of pure rhetoric and logic any character has ever had before in a film.
Paloma spends her days sneaking around her large apartment and the fancy apartment building around it with her sturdy 8mm video camera documenting her family’s neuroses and those of her neighbors. She can be extremely harsh, but true, when it comes to defining her mother, father, and sister through the lens. There is one neighbor Paloma cannot quite put her finger on though, which is rare, and that is the building’s super who lives downstairs. From the unobservant eye, Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko) is a middle-aged and sour hermit who lives to mop the floor, distribute mail, and to give you a wary eye as you pass by. But there is something deeper than just what the eye can see which Paloma wants to find out. She realizes that being a building’s concierge is the perfect place to hide in plain sight.
A new tenant moves in one day, Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), and he and Paloma realize they are kindred spirits. Mr. Ozu is a wealthy Japanese businessman and he strikes up a friendship with Paloma as they discuss their shared curiosity for the downstairs woman and their delight in playing the game Go with one another. Paloma has an enjoyable scene where she eviscerates an elder dinner guest who insists Go is the Asian form of chess. Using her impeccable logic, she makes a fool of him by even suggesting this could be so.
The Hedgehog won the Audience Award for Best Film at the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival which is quite an achievement considering they screen hundreds of films in competition there. I will not soon forget what a great time I had being able to sit back and listen to brilliant dialogue in a film which is set almost exclusively in one building in Paris. Bravo.