Friday, October 3, 2008





RATING: ****

This movie, a remake of THE RED BALLOON, a 1956-Academy Award winning film by Albert Lamorisse, is supposed to have been one of the films that enthralled critics, viewers, one and all at Cannes early this year, the others being ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’ and Gus Van Sant’s truly engrossing ‘Paranoid Park’. These two are pieces of information I did not know before I watched the movie, and I am sure that in case I had known this, my subconscious mind would have compelled my lips to mouth (Or my fingers to type in this case!) that what I had watched was indeed a remarkable film, something I could easily have forced myself to believe even. I’m not to be blamed for this, for critics these days seem to be redefining ‘boredom’ as ‘excellence’ what with films like ‘Gerry’ (By Gus Van Sant again!) receiving critical acclaim. Film Directors and respectable critics could share a few jokes indeed, but should it be at the expense of a common film aficionado?

‘The Flight of the Red Balloon’ isn’t stupid by the way, if you people have started to take that angle of thought. My point is just that good movies can be taken in ways more interesting than this. Mr. Hou seems to have exploited the celluloid quite effectively indeed, for events in this movie are a spectrum indeed but just vaguely distributed. There’s nothingness on a grand scale, followed by a short-scale occurrence of a lot of things in quick succession that is quite overwhelming, especially since that type of an occurrence is typecast whenever the frazzled and extremely preoccupied Suzanne (Binoche) walks into the frame. And Hou also emphasizes upon a sort of gradual unfolding of conversations and sequences even, an example being a sequence in a train, where Suzanne talks of a very important postcard of hers from her adolescent times, and it’s just her till she hands out the postcard to Song (Song Fang) sitting opposite to her, who again translates whatever she said, to a third man, a Mr.Zhang, to whom actually, the postcard is presented. A similar thing occurs in a telephonic monologue in a cab, with visual exploit of reflections upon the transparent glass, by Suzanne, that’s one of the two crucial monologues in the movie, and is no doubt, expertly photographed.

The film essentially begins with a beautiful conversation between Suzanne’s son Simon (Iteanu) and the imaginary red balloon that’s actually the red balloon Hou’s film boasts of, in which he innocently asks it to come down to be with him: An indication of the boy’s loneliness, for he misses his mother’s true love, what with her being too busy over her puppet plays and eviction of her once-friendly tenant, who seems to have taken a liking towards not paying rents though having a good stock in his bank account. Simon also misses his sister who’s living in Brussels alone, while his Dad is lodged at Montreal, trying to do some justice to a book he’s working on (Suzanne is divorced, obviously). The Red Balloon appears friendly: In fact, it proves to be more than just a Red Balloon, for once it leaves him safe in the train he’s expected to board, it wobbles all over a picture-perfect Paris, finally leading to a bus, out of which a Gabriel-like girl, Song Fang, A film student in Paris, hops out to meet Suzanne at her theatre school: Song is Simon’s newly hired Nanny. Suzanne tells Song in their first car trip that she doesn’t seem to be shy: Song disagrees, saying she’s a bit. But as the film progresses we agree upon Suzanne’s point.

Those bold, yet limited words of Song when she gets to spend a lot of value time with little Simon is what makes him open out to her. She doesn’t care to ask why he says his sister Louise is merely a ‘pretend’ sister; nor does she hesitate to say “I guessed so”, when Simon innocently says his parents are divorced. She has a camera on her that she uses to record whatever Simon does, and he in turn films what she does, and that includes his expertise on Pinball-playing, as well as Song’s first pancake-making lesson. She says she’s making a film on a red balloon, which points out that, incidentally, the red balloon is everywhere: On the side of a building, as a painting, wobbling outside a window alongside Song’s reflection, above Simon’s skylight as he sleeps under it. The Balloon is a nice metaphor of the imaginary world that unites Song and Simon – A bond he has never been given a chance to share with his mother. She’s more like a sister to him, for his sequences with Louise always appear to follow or precede those he shares with Song. Simon hardly speaks with her, and Song hardly ever speaks (!) but still, between the naturally introverted Simon, and the reserved Song, their silence is what ultimately speaks…

Juliette Binoche appears to be a certainty for every good film made contemporarily in France: Michael Haneke’s ‘Cache’ had her, and here she is again this year to captivate one and all with a beautiful and good-humoured portrayal of Suzanne. She does great justice as the woman who is helpless about her present state, of things that happen and how she wished they weren’t that way: Her desperation shows when she badly wants her daughter to move with them, so that she could be with her. Fantastic again, is the scene where Suzanne and Song discuss Song’s film called ‘Origins’ which, according to Suzanne, told of things she had neglected so long. “I felt like I could almost hear my dad pacing about the room, and my mother slamming the door”, says Suzanne excitedly, as Song simply smiles and expresses her thanks. Song Fang is beautiful as the courteous, just and measured Taiwanese girl, who develops a nice friendship with the person she’s supposed to develop: Simon. Simon Iteanu as Simon is every bit of the kid he’s portrayed on screen, and the match of his real and cinematic names suggests that the director could very well have used his true mannerisms on screen, for he seems to be natural in whatever he does, be it swinging about a lamp-post or asking his mom ‘Why she’s in such a hurry’.

Excellent photography, especially in truly dramatic sequences involving a blind piano-tuner, and those involving transparent glass windows make it wondrous, visually. The music score is good too, perhaps an extra edge it is in the penultimate sequence again, where the sounds of the man tuning Simon’s piano are the only music in the background and that music in turn is beautifully arranged. Some nice shots, particularly (as mentioned before) the gradual unfolding of characters involved in a conversation, as well as a sudden cascade of occurrences after ages of silence. The puppets are symbols of Song’s strong ethical backdrop, which also serve to alter Suzanne, and help her rediscover and re-establish the love she has upon her son. ‘The Flight of the Red Balloon’ is an addition to the collection of nightmarish child tales, where the only problem of the child is his/her negligence. Hou doesn’t want Simon to be neglected: He has his angel to take care of that. An angel who kisses Simon good night as the Godly Red Balloon supervises from above. And you smile at how lucky a child Simon is…

‘The Flight of the Red Balloon’ isn’t a drag: It’s just my review of it that is. The movie had a load of things for sure. The only problem is that it’s director Mr. Hou chooses to tell them to us in the sober way he thinks life actually is…

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