Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Balloon)
Albert Lamorisse, France, 1956 34 minA red balloon with a life of its own follows a little boy around the streets of Paris. Winner of the Best Original Screenplay Oscar, despite almost no dialog spoken in the film.
Le Voyage Du Balloon Rouge (Flight of the Red Balloon) A little boy and his baby-sitter inhabit the same imaginary world: through their adventures they are followed by a strange red balloon. Directed by celebrated Taiwanese New Wave director Hou Hsiao-hsien who captures the magic of the mysterious balloon often through an elegant use of the reflection of mirrors and glass.
Hou Hsiao-hsien, France, 2008 113 min
A more thorough synopsis of the film here.
May be spoilers, not sure. I sought to write something that would enhance your viewing if you saw these films. I explore the red balloon as poetic image. Not a film review; rather the way my thoughts of the movie hovered and swam in the air like the red balloon.
______The Red Balloon
, the 1956 nearly silent film by Albert Lamorisse is stark poetry. The balloon and the child. Both buoyant and fragile, moving into an expanding world and trusting. The film is the motion of the child through the streets of an older Paris; like the balloon, we rarely see him in interiors, and when we do it is looking out of windows to the light where the balloon hovers with him. Of course jealousy and envy arise and the boys who want the power of the red balloon that the chosen boy has, and ultimately the slow deflation of the balloon by catapult. When all the balloons in Paris rise and congregate like a flock with the grieving boy who has lost his red balloon, he flies over the city held by them, a Chagall painting.Flight of the Red Balloon
, the 2008 film by Hou Hsiao-hsien, in part a tribute, begins with a balloon that echoes the balloon from the original film. A poem within a poem. The balloon hovers around the boy in the new film, though no-one but the audience sees this.
The balloon has been called a symbol of the imagination yet for me it cannot be this.
It's a relationship. As if you rubbed the balloon on your sweater, it would stick to you. The balloon is loyal like a puppy. It follows, hovers, allows itself to be seen only by who should see it.
The balloon is like a vision, fragile, buoyant and red. Or an apple, the beginning of the alphabet and the wisdom the fall from the Garden of Eden initiates.
It is a piece of man-made rubber inflated with helium but loses that property.
The red sphere dances in the sky, being a balloon that becomes a stave in a musical score, an image in a poem, a rich round colour in a painter's palette. It is the spinning globe of red that is the life force.
The red balloon is the magic of what floats.
If we follow what floats we will understand the symbol of the red balloon in the film.
The red balloon is a sun in the sky.
It's locked out. The red balloon is untethered, free to fly in the wind, to fly up into space.
The red balloon is the boy's heart which it invisibly ties itself to. The red balloon comes to comfort the boy in his loneliness, his bravery in living the independent life expected of him. The boy travels from home to school and back again in Paris, alone, the red balloon following.
There is a poignancy, a tenderness to the comfort the large red balloon and the boy offer each other, the white string of the balloon like an umbilical chord to hope.
Whoever holds the red balloon in the film, or the wires attached to it is made invisible as the balloon hovers near the boy, only the pure relationship remains.
In Flight of the Red Balloon
, the film-student nanny of the boy is filming a film of the red balloon but never sees the one following her care outside the window, as if she is a grown Wendy who cannot see Peter Pan's Neverland of eternal childhood dancing on the windowsill.
The red balloon rises and falls on the walls outside the boy's room like breath. Sometimes the red balloon slides glancing over a graffiti representation of a red balloon as life and art interweave, as they do everywhere in the film.
The matriarch of the film, of the house, which was her mother's before her, and the mother of the child is a puppeteer, or rather the powerful voice of the woman in the puppet show. Everywhere in the film we see puppets, snippets of a show of mythic proportions and great passion (based on the Yuan Dynasty story of Zhang Yu and his beloved, Qiong Lian.)
Archetypal forces are at play under the weave of characters and narrative of the film, in the domestic dramas and interweaving of cultures, French and Taiwanese (the film by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien), the struggles of the artists represented in the film in all their variety, from the successful puppeteers (the mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), who financially supports the household), to the film student of film, Song Fang (played by herself), who stays with the boy, Simon (Simon Iteaneau), after school, to the writer and his girlfriend who live on the second floor without paying rent, to Suzanne's boyfriend who is absent in Montreal writing a novel, to the teacher at the end teaching the children how to look at the painting of the child with the red balloon from an aerial perspective, from the balloon's perspective.
While Hou Hsiao-hsien provided the general scenarios of the film and the background story to the actors, they created the dialogue and the movement. The domestic scenes feel real and contrast with the poetry interweaving the film like the balloon floating about the windows and walls outside, held by desire yet subject to the rhythms of air, a moving notation.
The balloon always behind dusty old windows, in mirrors, at the edge of the pictorial frame, never graspable. So subtle as to be missed by all but the boy and the film director who guides the audience's vision to its close red roundness.
In the slightly nostalgic and poignant feeling of the film, the red balloon is held by the warmth of our hearts to us.