Mona Achache's THE HEDGEHOG
I admit it. I hesitated on my in to watch Mona Achache’s THE HEDGEHOG (in select cities and making its last lap on the festival circuit). “Should I really do this?” I thought. Should I trust the French with a light comedy about a child obsessed with suicide? Hadn’t the Americans already proved that all efforts in this arena should cease post-HAROLD AND MAUDE? But in I went. And my expectations were spot on: a feel-good movie purportedly about darkness, but with very little darkness to be seen.
The casting of the eleven-year-old girl may have been the first misstep. A very skilled actor, Garance Le Guillermic’s craft was not the issue, it was simply her physicality that caused me to pause. Despite her best frown, perfected into a perma-grimace as bummer-child Paloma, this little girl has the architectural face of a Greek goddess and simply exuded light. I could not swallow that she was living under a black cloud.
But even more than the casting, which gets a pass with Guillermic’s strong performance, the film is over-designed. Every single frame features exquisite flourishes with the most nuanced props and paints, surfaces and shines. Granted, the story is set in a Parisian apartment filled with rich people, but even the janitor (Josiane Balasko) has exquisite wallpapering in her modest first floor flat. Every pillow is the one that took you years to find, every cup and saucer is just so. In addition to making a film that documents her despair, young genius Paloma makes things – drawings, collages, cut-outs – in fact, the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen a child create. It’s too much; The design effectively pushes the narrative aside.
Lastly, it reminds me how difficult a task adaptation truly is. One can sense the great novel that lies beneath. In a story that’s ultimately about discovering life, you need all the nuance you can get to pack the flesh onto what could be a skeleton of clichés. The word can get you there, but design, in this case, could not.