Sometimes, I run out of witty observations about life in France and I get the feeling that it might be too soon for yet another “interesting” etymological history. Today is one of those days, so I asked myself, “Why not give them a recommendation on something French?” Not a bad idea. So here goes …
I strongly encourage you to run to your local movie store, add to your Netflix queue, or somehow stream to your computer :
I first saw Le Hérisson about a year ago, and it ranks as one of my favorite French movies of all time, along with Le fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, Le premier jour du reste de ta vie, Un long dimanche de fiançailles (even though I still haven’t seen the end), and La Reine Margot (because, yes, I am a history nerd in addition to being a hopeless romantic, and I embrace that).
Le Hérisson is director Mona Achache‘s adaptation of Muriel Barbery‘s novel L’Élégance du hérisson (The Elegance of the Hedgehog). It’s the story of unexpected connections among the most unlikely of friends: Madame Renée Michel, the grumpy (and frumpy) 54-year-old concierge of an upper-class Paris apartment building; Paloma Josse, an eleven-year-old resident and amateur nihilist philosopher; and Monsieur Kakuro Ozu, the enigmatic new resident of the building.
In Barbery’s novel, the chief narrator is Madame Michel, but in Achache’s adaption, the story is primarily told from Paloma’s perspective. An intelligent, pre-adolescent girl with an acerbic wit, Paloma is already so jaded by the futility of life that she has decided—just days shy of her twelfth birthday—that she will take her own life when the day arrives. She spends her remaining days with her camcorder, documenting the absurdity of the “fishbowl” (literally and figuratively). Thanks to her documentary project, she encounters Madame Michel, a widow who has resigned herself to a life of complacent solitude with no hope or desire for anything more than her job, her books, her television, and her cat. When Monsieur Ozu arrives on the scene, however, everything begins to change. A chance moment—a connection over a Tolstoy quotation—plants the seed of an improbable relationship between the two, and we perceive the very beginnings of Madame Michel’s renaissance as a woman once again ready to live and love. Witness to this transformation and to subsequent events, Paloma comes to understand that perhaps life doesn’t have to be as absurd as she once believed.
I haven’t read Barbery’s novel, so I can’t comment on the film’s fidelity to her story or how well Achache renders the work to the screen, but the story you see unfold in Le Hérisson is artfully done. It will make you laugh and cry, and it will shock you and inspire you. The cast is exceptional, with the incomparable Josiane Balasko as Madame Michel, Garance Le Guillermic as Paloma, and Togo Igawa as Monsieur Ozu … and the score is by Gabriel Yared (who won an Oscar and a Grammy for his work on The English Patient). If need any more encouragement, just watch the trailer :
Now, go find a copy of this beautiful film, pop some popcorn, and get ready for a cinematic moment you won’t soon forget.
P.S.—This movie touched me so much that Paloma’s words near the end of the film have become one of my favorite quotations about the meaning of life, but don’t worry—I won’t quote her and spoil the ending for you!
© 2012 Samuel Michael Bell, all rights reserved