Mona Achache's "The Hedgehog" is an exquisite, intimate film of restraint and delicacy.
Inspired by Muriel Barbery's novel, it tells two intersecting stories — how pretty, 11-year-old Paloma plans to cope with her discovery that life is absurd, and how the kindly, sophisticated attentions of a new tenant in her Parisian apartment building (Togo Igawa) start to bring to life dour concierge Renée (Josiane Balasko), whom Paloma compares to a hedgehog: "prickly on the outside but elegant and refined on the inside."
Balasko's understated portrayal of Renée is the very center of the film. "Ugly, short and fat" is her self-description. A widow for 15 years, she sees herself as the stereotype of a concierge, never amiable but always polite. She has become all but invisible to the apartment's residents, and she retreats to her tiny apartment's backroom with its shelves lined with books to escape her banal, marginal existence.
Ever so gradually she comes alive, responding to the needy Paloma and to Ozu's courting of her. "The Hedgehog" then takes an unexpected turn in an act of daring that allows this splendid film to attain a whole new level of meaning.
"The Hedgehog." No MPAA rating. In French with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. At selected theaters.