We need more directors willing to take risks with films like Get Out.
"The Hedgehog" is a feel-good movie that masquerades at first as a feel-bad. It's narrated by Paloma, a precocious and almost infuriatingly self-assured 11-year-old, who plans to kill herself on her 12th birthday. This seems like a permanent solution to a trivial set of problems. Her complaints are common enough: Her mother talks to plants, her father is distracted by work, her sister is a snooty little snotnose, and her sister's goldfish serves for Paloma as a metaphor for her own life lived in a bowl.
Paloma is the heroine of The Elegance of the Hedgehog, a French best-seller by Muriel Barbery. The hedgehog, as we know, is a creature that's all bristles on the outside, and all cuddly on the inside. It is not Paloma who is the hedgehog in the film, but Madame Renee Michel (Josiane Balasko), the 54-year-old concierge of the Parisian apartment building where Paloma lives with her family. Madame Michel refers to herself as old and ugly, dresses in an almost aggressively dowdy fashion, and "doesn't do anything with herself."
At first, we fear the film will focus entirely on Paloma's tiresome narcissism. Then a deus ex machina arrives in the form of Kakuro Ozu (Togo Igawa), who moves into an empty apartment. Mr. Ozu is an elegant Japanese man of around 60, and it should catch our attention that he happens to have the same surname as Yasujiro Ozu, that most civilized of Japanese directors.
We never learn very much about Mr. Ozu's history. He arrives fully formed in the building, well dressed, quiet, his gray hair cut youthfully short. He overhears Madame Michel saying impatiently, "Happy families are all alike." These are perhaps the most famous opening words of any novel, and Ozu supplies Tolstoy's next line: "Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."