The Hedgehog

"Happy families are all alike..." mutters a short, ugly, overweight concierge to herself. We are in an upscale Parisian apartment building.

"...every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way," responds a new tenant, a wealthy Japanese widower, who is there to pick up his keys. Much to her surprise, he has recognized Leo Tolstoy's first line in the classic novel Anna Karenina.

Thus opens "Le hérisson" (Yes, there are English captions) in which we quickly become acquainted with an overindulged but deeply bored 11- year-old girl who is carefully planning her suicide for her 12th birthday. We watch this precocious youngster videotape her older sister, her successful father and her chronically depressed mother in their daily lives. We hear her commentary which provides a cynical voiceover for her home movies. Our resourceful little heroine has been studiously stockpiling antidepressants pilfered from her mother for over a year, careful to avoid suspicion.

We also observe the concierge going about her daily tasks, focused, humorless, conscientious and solitary. When the girl finally befriends the woman, she asks why she never sees her smile. The reply: there are certain expectations placed on concierges in Paris: they should be short, ugly and overweight. But we know this one has a special secret: her cherished library.

When the new Japanese tenant discovers that the concierge's cat is named "Leo," he gives her a gift: a leather-bound first edition of Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. And so our story begins....

This film is beautifully cast, lovingly photographed, and carefully scripted. No blowie uppie stuff, no sweaty bodies, no car chases or gunshots, but instead a delicately tentative courtship and a teenage girl's coming of age. This was the first selection I saw in the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.

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Here's a link to a trailer:
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