The idea of an 11 year-old from an affluent Parisian family who decides to commit suicide at age 12 because her "fishbowl" life is "not for her" does not strike me as funny, but it is a reigning conceit of Mona Achache's crowd-pleasing film The Hedgehog, based on Muriel Barbery's much beloved novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog. The "hedgehog" of the title, a sad and lonely apartment building concierge played by the wonderful actress Josiane Balasko experiences an awakening thanks to her neighbor, Kazuro Ozu (Togo Igawa). The precocious preteen is watching.
Before opening theatrically this week, the 2009 film traveled to American film festivals, winning many audience awards. I caught up with Balasko in July, for a rooftop coffee in a midtown hotel.
Q: I understand you never read the novel before taking on this film project. What persuaded you?
When I read the script I thought it was beautiful and I wanted to meet the director. She looked young, like a student, but she was 27. She was convincing so I accepted the movie.
Q: Were you worried that the film would not be successful in the United States?
It's a universal story and it is close to the book, and the book is a big success so I never worried that it would not be accepted in the U.S.
Q: What do you think of American studio films?
I love that many American films are big entertainment. They are like ice cream, I can eat them and forget them very quickly. I also love American independent movies like Frozen River, directed by a woman, Courtney Hunt. I am happy to know there are still films like this one made.
Q: You are multitalented, a playwright and novelist as well as an actress. You are perhaps best know in this country for the 1995 hit French Twist, which you wrote, directed, and in which you performed. Which art dominates?
I think of myself more as an actress.
Q: Are there any American directors you'd like to work with?
There is no place for women over 50 in American movies. I watch the movies and ask the question, where is my face? There is no room for a girl who is not sexy, not glamorous, and not young. That's why I write my own movies and create my own place in the system. I could work with all the American directors. I don't think they have room in their movies for me.
Q: Who is your favorite American actress?
Lucille Ball. In France no one knows about her because her television series is not shown. She was beautiful and funny. I collect Lucille Ball dolls.
A version of this post also appears on Gossip Central.