The Hedgehog -- Film Review

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PARIS -- "The Hedgehog" is the screen adaptation of an international best-seller "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," which has sold 1.2 million copies in France.

It therefore has a ready-made audience in its home country and countries where translations of the novel have been or are about to be published. This is just as well because Mona Achache's debut feature simply does not make it on its cinematic merits alone.

"Hedgehog" author Muriel Barbery is a philosophy teacher who lives in Japan. The story revolves around a precocious -- some would say an intolerably precocious -- 11-year-old girl named Paloma, who is constantly philosophizing, and a bookish concierge's courting by a kind and courteous -- some would say an impossibly kind and courteous -- Japanese businessman, who moves into Paloma and the concierge's apartment block in one of the better-off areas of Paris.

Paloma (Garance Le Guillemic) is the daughter of a snobbish mother and a distracted father, both of whom largely ignore her. She has decided that rather than succumb to the mediocrity of the life around her, she will commit suicide on a given date unless things take a turn for the better.

She perceives an ally in the stout, blowsy concierge named Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko). She has a lavishly stocked library in her back room and, when her employers are not looking, enjoys nothing better than to curl up with a volume or two of Tolstoy. When the cultured Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa) moves into an upstairs apartment, he too is taken with Renee's "elegance of the hedgehog" -- all prickles outside, but a heart of gold within.

The story's transposition of class conflict into something resembling the Cinderella fairy tale explains much of the novel's success and might provide a basis for successful marketing of the movie worldwide. But art house audiences might find the movie's winsomeness sticking in their throat.

Although the conceit of an ever-so-erudite child palling around with an exceedingly wise concierge might be workable in a novel, cinema tends to realism, and Achache is too much of a novice to bring it off. The cuteness grates, and the setups and philosophizing are generally unconvincing. Nevertheless, production values are high, the performances are solid and there are moments of charm.

Opened: Friday, July 3 (France)
Production: Les Films des Tournelles, Pathe, France 2 Cinema, Eagle Pictures, Topaze Bleue
Cast: Josiane Balasko, Garance Le Guillemic, Togo Igawa, Anne Brochet, Ariane Ascaride, Wladimir Yordanoff, Sarah Le Picard
Director-screenwriter: Mona Achache
Based on the novel by: Muriel Barbery
Producers: Anne-Dominique Toussaint, Romain Le Grand, Tarek Ben Ammar
Director of photography: Patrick Blossier
Production designer: Yves Brover
Music: Gabriel Yared
Editor: Julia Gregory
Sales: Pathe Distribution
No rating, 100 minutes