2nd Annual French Film Festival
CJSF volunteer, Kate Lerman, reviews Flight of the Red Balloon as part of the French Film Festival...
Amidst the crass comedy and noisy CGI of summer movies, I found a wonderful oasis: “Flight of the Red Balloon”. It’s the first French-language film from Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao Hsien. The film is loosely based on Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 classic short, “The Red Balloon”, in which a young boy is followed around Paris by a red balloon.
The general plot of the modern tale is as follows: Suzanne, played by Juliette Binoche, is a voice actress in a puppet theatre in Paris. She’s a single mom and needs help taking care of her young son, Simon. So she hires Song, a young film student originally from Beijing.
In the opening scene of the film, Simon tries to convince a large red balloon, hiding amidst a tree near a subway station, to come home with him. Later on, as Song shows Simon her camera, she briefly mentions the 1956 short film. Simon and Song share two key things: a quiet but passionate love of art, and a fascination by the mysterious red balloon that they encounter.
In “Flight of the Red Balloon”, the beauty is in the details. The camera lingers on people and places, drawing the viewer into the setting. And then, interestingly, it lingers some *more*, making scenes seem too long sometimes. But this isn’t a complaint because this isn’t a “car-chase” film. It’s about people and settings, so it’s only natural that those things are framed and focused on in delicate detail. The production design creates a realistic, lived-in feeling, with Suzanne’s apartment, a model of organized-chaos, a standout. I can truly believe that these people live there.
Ultimately, “Flight of the Red Balloon” is less about a plot and more about ideas and feelings. It focuses on art and human communication, and how intertwined those two things are. Suzanne’s and Song’s crafts, puppetry and film-making, are huge influences on how they see the world and how they interact with others. Like the red balloon amidst Parisian streets, they just *fit* in each others’ lives.
Though not for everyone, with its slow storytelling and lingering camera, a patient viewer will be rewarded with a movie experience that is challenging and makes you think. And that is a welcome, and necessary, break from the “stuff exploding” films of the summer.
“Flight of the Red Balloon” plays from June 27 to July 3 at the Park Theatre, as part of the Vancouver French Film Festival.