Flight of the Red Balloon
Taiwanese New Wave cinema pioneer Hou Hsiao-hsien makes his French language debut with this eloquent drama loosely inspired by Albert Lamorisse’s much-loved 1956 short, The Red Balloon. Taking as its starting point that film’s wonderfully simple idea – a bright red balloon seemingly with a will of its own follows a young boy around the streets of Paris – Hou pursues his thematic interest in the dislocation of modern urban life that he’s explored in his previous films, most recently in the 2004 Tokyo-set Café Lumiere.
Here, the young boy with the inflatable companion is seven-year-old Simon (Simon Iteanu), a charming innocent with a loving but preoccupied mother, a puppeteer named Suzanne (Juliet Binoche). Absorbed by the new show she’s working on, and overwhelmed by the pressures of day-to-day life, Suzanne hires an Asian film student, Song (Song Fang), to look after her neglected son. Here it’s relegated to the role of spectator. It, like the camera-work of Hou and his talented cinematographer Mark Li Ping Bing (In the Mood for Love), remains a passive observer of the lives of the film’s three central characters, but at the same time it emphasises their isolation in a big city. It’s a meditative and melancholy film, but the elegant photography, original use of Parisian locations and captivating performances (particularly by Binoche) makes this Flight of the Red Balloon a trip worth watching.
Filmhouse, Edinburgh and selected release from Fri 14 Mar.