Flight of the Red Balloon

Flight of the Red Balloon


Film review by: Witney Seibold





            Hou Hsiao-Hsien is one of those directors who gets a thrill from pointing his cameras at ordinary people doing ordinary things and having ordinary lives, and achieving that odd thrill one can get from a perfectly real and un-extraordinary events. His last stateside hit (if it can be called a hit), “Millennium Mambo” showed a young party girl (Shu Qi) going to clubs, arguing with her boyfriend, laying about, being bored, and yet we still got a powerful sense that her youthful life had already burned out. Hou is one of the new experts of realist cinema.


            His new film, “Flight of the Red Balloon” is just as contemplative and just as uneventful as “Mambo,” but manages to convey a sense of wonder and hope, and even manages to include some truly magical cameos from the title character of Albert Lamorisse’s 1957 children’s classic “The Red Balloon.”


            Simon (Simon Iteanu) is a typical Parisian ten-year-old living in a cramped apartment with his mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche). His new nanny Song (Song Fang) is a film student who has a good rapport with him.


            Suzanne is a flibbertigibbet who thrives on chaotic energy. She runs a puppet theater, and seems capable when performing and singing for her puppet characters, but has to keep moving, chattering, panicking in her everyday life. As the film unfolds, we come to realize that her husband has left the country, possibly for good, but possibly not. Simon’s older sister also eventually shows up. Oh, and, occasionally, like a comforting god-like voyeur, a mysterious red balloon follows Simon around.


            The takes are long, and the main character, Simon isn’t even on camera for many of his scenes. There is one scene in which Suzanne gets into an argument with her downstairs tenant (to whom she’s leased her husband’s old flat), and Simon remains at the dinner table playing with a video camera. The effect makes him seem like a casual, powerless, but perfectly content spectator to his mother’s own chaos. It’s a good thing Song entered his life, for she’s the only one who while not necessarily offering herself as a surrogate parent, at least seems interested in such details.


            This is the kind of film that will be discussed with hushed tones amongst film students, and will not even be noticed by most mainstream American moviegoers (who would be aggravated by its lack of dramatic incident anyway). I feel it’s certainly worth a look. I was on a quiet blissful cloud when I left the theater, and felt that I had been taken somewhere.


            Although I still liked “Millennium Mambo” better.

Film review by: Witney Seibold


Published in: on May 2, 2008 at 12:36 am  Leave a Comment  

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