The Flight Of The Red Balloon


Reviewed by: Paul Griffiths

The Flight Of The Red Balloon
"A contemplative and visually dulcet experience." | Photo: UniFrance

Albert Lamorisses’ 1956 Oscar-winning short The Red Balloon is reverently revived in contemporary Paris by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien (The Puppetmaster). His respect for the esteemed classic is clear and he pays fine homage to its magical, lyrical images by regularly emulating them with his own.

This film was commissioned by the Seine-banked Musee d’Orsay and both it and the streets and rooftops of Paris look truly cinematic. Once again we see a young boy, Simon (Simon Iteanu), nigh-befriended by a large red balloon that gracefully follows him about the city when he’s accompanied by either his mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) or nanny Song (Song Fang). It is when Hsiao-Hsien is tracking the floating, vibrant metaphor that his cinematography conjures its most exquisite illustrations.

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The seven-year old Simon, however, is not always the main focus. A large portion of the film accompanies his harried, single parent mother as she tries to juggle her domestic and work lives. Her career as a successful puppeteer is clearly a creative, engrossing and demanding vocation, but one that constantly threatens to overwhelm her efforts to balance things at home. She employs Song to help her cope.

The quiet but attentive Song is a film student and so spends a lot of her time out with Simon, video camera in hand. Hsiao-Hsien uses this device to weave in more references to the balloon and images of the boy finding his way about the adult city. With an understated Fang and a mostly authentic young Iteanu, it’s a pleasing enough concept as time rambles along with them.

Juliette Binoche, on the other hand, entrances with her brilliant performance. With no melodrama, no trite meltdown lording over her, her portrayal of Suzanne coping with a complicated modern life is utterly convincing. Very little actually happens to move the semblance of a narrative along, but you are absorbed by her creation of a flawed, ingenuous person getting tired, stressed, getting a few things done, and getting by.

In truth, Binoche is so good that you yearn to stay with her more. Her character is certainly wrapped up in and counter-balanced by Iteanu’s but, despite the shared themes, the film can’t quite escape the impression of watching two short films intertwined, rather than one finely pleasing whole. It is affecting enough, though, to hold its meditative pace for most of its lengthy two hours' running time.

A contemplative and visually dulcet experience.

Reviewed on: 10 Mar 2008
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A busy mother’s young boy attracts the attention of a large balloon.
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Read more The Flight Of The Red Balloon reviews:

Caro Ness ***

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Writer: Hou Hsiao-Hsien, François Margolin

Starring: Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu, Song Fang, Hippolyte Girardot

Year: 2007

Runtime: 113 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: France

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