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The Hedgehog: "My modern fairy tale"

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Mona Achache • Director

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Mona Achache  • Director

Born in 1981, the French director made a successful feature debut with The Hedgehog [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, adapted from the best-selling novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The film attracted 840,000 viewers in France and has been released in Europe in Spain, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Austria and Greece.

Cineuropa: What made you want to adapt Muriel Barbery’s novel for the big screen?
Mona Achache: The three rather unconventional characters, their originality, the unlikelihood of their meeting and the poetry emanating from the story. What I liked in the book and really wanted to retain is the modern fairy tale aspect, with a slice of realism, as well as this dreamlike aspect that is very present in the novel.

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What main choices did you make when working on your adaptation?
The main transformation was the journal kept by Paloma in the book. The poetry of the words she writes became, in the film, her way of drawing and filming with a movie camera. And to bring out the poetic and dreamlike dimension of the novel, we needed a particular setting. I thought of Art Nouveau architecture, which is rather timeless, enigmatic and captivating. But while the outer facades are spectacular, the inside isn’t at all. And my producer agreed to let us recreate an apartment building in a studio.

Besides seasoned actress Josiane Balasko, were you worried about the prospect of directing an 11-year-old girl and an actor who only speaks Japanese?
For Togo Igawa, it wasn’t easy because he learnt everything phonetically and we couldn’t improvise. But his pronunciation is part of the character’s mysteriousness. As regards Garance Le Guillermic, I’ve always worked with children in my short films and it’s no harder than directing an adult: it’s different but fascinating. As for Josiane Balasko, as soon as I read the book, I thought of her.

What role did your producer, Anne-Dominique Toussaint, play?
I once gave her a screenplay to read but she turned it down because she found it too gloomy. But she’d seen my shorts and said she’d be interested in working with me. When I called her back two years later, she encouraged me to find a story to adapt. It’s extremely rare to find a producer who keeps her word and takes a gamble on young directors as she also did with Riad Sattouf and Nadine Labaki. It’s my own modern fairy tale.

What are your cinematic preferences?
I admire Jane Campion, who manages in film after film to create very different worlds, centred on magnificent portraits of women. Through my two children, there are also loads of films I adore and which have "influenced" me. For the films we watch when we’re children – which I’m re-watching now with my own children, like The Red Balloon, The King and the Mockingbird and The Wizard of Oz – are perhaps the cinematic images with the most lasting impression on us.

What is your next project?
I’m working on two screenplays at the same time. I’ve had the first one in mind for many years: the story of three women (a daughter, her mother and her grandmother). The second is a romantic comedy, a great story of friendship between a man and a woman.

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