I love French comedies that play with the humanity of the characters, so flawed and yet so affectionately rendered. The French seem especially to love depicting the interchange between classes which they do with flair, with a certain Gallic twinkle in the eye on the part of the story teller. The Rules of the Game (Les Regles de Jeux) is the classic example of class depiction told with this certain je ne sais quoi. I think even Bunuel’s depiction of the bourgeoisie in The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie satirizing the French Bourgeoisie displays that quintessentially French touch (and Bunuel’s not even French!) as it not only satirizes the middle class but also satirizes the French filmmakers themselves who have always loved depicting the Bourgeoisie. That French caress – light and loving – given with that twinkle in the eye, was also in the recent Colcoa Audience Award winner Service Entrance (Les Femmes du 6e étage). Some of my other favorites are Frances Veber’s The Valet and Ridicule by Patrice Le Conte whose Les bronzés comedy series also featured Josiane Balasco, the star of this film and one of France’s great comediennes as well as a respected director and novelist!.
I think that twinkle in the eye of the storyteller is the key ingredient. It’s the butter in the croissant.
Now The Hedgehog takes on the Bourgeoisie and the Concierge, always a staple in French apartment buildings, and a new element is added: a Japanese gentleman who moves in and discovers the love of Tolstoy nursed by the concierge and her cat Leo. His two cats are named Kitty and Levin, two characters from War and Peace. Togo Igawa has got to be the sexiest Japanese man I have seen since Eiji Okada in Hiroshima Mon Amour. How lucky Josiane Balasco, the “ugly, short and fat” concierge is that he can see beneath her surface and raise her from depressive surliness, so typical of French Concierges to the beauty she actually is. Balasco always has the ability to surprise. Her first hit here in America was seminal; remember French Twist? She knows how to transform her characters from the stereotypical to the real thing.
This is the scene I like most in the film. It foretells the whole story in such a way that it actually brings tears to my eyes now that I have seen the film.
Then there is the crazy bourgeois family whose precocious darling daughter (Garance Le Guillermic) stirs up the brew simmering in the building. Aiming to kill herself by her 12th birthday, Paloma learns the value of life is in the experience of living itself.
Inspired by the best-selling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery ♀ and directed by Mona Achache ♀ ( an auspicious debut!), written by Mona Achache (screenplay), Muriel Barbery – Writer (novel “L’élégance du hérisson”), produced by Mark Lombardo and Anne-Dominique Toussaint ♀ . Edited by Julia Gregory ♀, This is really a female endeavor.
This film is such delectable entertainment. See it; you’ll be happy you did.
More on Josiane Balasko:
Nominated a first time in the Best Actress category at the 1990 César awards, for playing a secretary seducing Gérard Depardieu in a film directed by Bertrand Blier, Too Beautiful for You (Trop belle pour toi), and again in 1994 for To Have Communists Parents by Jean-Jacques Zilbermann, she wrote, directed and casted herself in French Twist (Gazon Maudit), a major commercial success in 1995. In French Twist, Josiane Balasko addressed the social issue of female homosexuality and won a César for Best Writing. In 2001, she starred alongside Nathalie Baye in the French adaptation of the famous BBC show, Absolutely Fabulous. She was nominated again for Best Actress in 2004 for her role in Cette Femme-là (Hanging Offense) by Guillaume Nicloux.