“ Actors: Pascal Lamorisse, Sabine Lamorisse, Georges Sellier, Vladimir Popov, Paul Perey / Directors: Albert Lamorisse / Writers: Albert Lamorisse / Producers: Albert Lamorisse / Language: French / Studio: Criterion / DVD Released: 1956 / Run Time: 34 minutes „
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The Red Balloon is a curious film. It is a short, coming in at just over 30 mins long and focusing mainly on a boy and his balloon. Lauded for its cinematography and apparent symbolism, it sees a young boy going about his day, to school and then back again, through some banlieu back streets. He comes across this red balloon which he shows an interest in and which subsequently follows him everywhere. Initially, the balloon follows the boy quite naturally, with him actually holding onto it and taking it with him. At this stage, we're sort of interested in where this is going but nothing seems out of the ordinary, and really this is the main key - it's all so natural and innocent.
Once the balloon starts to subtly take on a mind of its own, the magic of the film comes into play. I found myself quite mesmerised watching this, as the little boy (Pascal) goes on his way across the beautiful landscape of Paris, one of the most visually stunning cities in the world. The back streets are rustic, the landscape depth cleverly displayed and panned, zoomed and smoothly filmed. The dull and gentle colours that are employed by director Albert Lamorisse are set in brilliant juxtaposition to the bright and vibrant red of the balloon, which sticks out like a sore thumb but never seems out of place.
The thing is, it's such a simple tale. Nothing much happens as we see the boy find the balloon, go about his day, encounter a few people and the film ends. Small things do happen that have an impact, but the main thing is that he has found it. I'm not so sure of the symbolism, but it seems to me that there are messages about hopes and dreams in the vivid red that the balloon represents in the era this was made, a post war 1950s in a Parisien suburb that is largely gone now. I have been to this area in Paris, albeit a number of years ago, and what I saw was an impressive visual representation of the decades. Many regard the area as a lowly part, a lesser part of the city, but there are some beauteous elements that are captured magnificently in this film.
I don't often bother with short films, as I find that much like short stories, there's just not enough time to capture the mood and characters that are needed. Here though, the main character capturing that is needed is done easily, the boy and the balloon having a testing relationship, or should I say conmpanionship, as the film progresses. There's one moment where the boy attempts to leave the balloon, and this is the only moment where I thought it was patchy. There are tales of being able to see thread and cord at certain moments against certain backdrops, but the thing is there's no real disappointment attached to any of this, as technology at this era was not what it is today, and having the occasional blemish like this just isn't even worth searching for. We know balloons don't have minds of their own, and wouldn't expect them to move of their own accord. That this is a film about one that does indicates a shift from reality and a symbolic nature to the film, nothing more or less and nothing that requires perfection.
Perfection though is what it very nearly delivers. I was riveted from start to finish, Pascal's innocence and the combination of him going through his behaviourist routine with a usurper for the day, the camera panning expertly around to capture everything in as few shots as possible. Beautiful really is a great word to use for this film. Well cast, simply filmed and just beautiful. Recommended.