Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Best Films I've Never Seen Before: The Red Ballon (1956)

The Red Balloon (1956) ****
Directed by: Albert Lamorisse.
Written by: Albert Lamorisse.

There is a simplicity about Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon that I find quite endearing. Here is a short film – only 30 minutes long but it’s hard to think of too many other films that capture the innocence and joy of childhood as much as this film does. As the title implies, the film is about a red balloon – or more specifically about a little boy who finds a red balloon on his way to school, and what follows. The balloon seems to have a mind of its own, and follows the little boy everywhere. When he leaves it outside while he’s in school, the balloon goes off to play and flirt with a blue balloon, but comes back to the school in time for when the boy gets out. His mother doesn’t want him to keep the balloon, so he has to hide it – and when he puts it outside his window, it simply hovers there. Where ever the boy goes – the balloon follows. That is until the other kids in the neighborhood – coarser and crueler than our hero – track down the balloon and try to “kill it”. Children don’t seem to like it when someone has something they enjoy this much. The balloon tries to get away, but it is only a balloon after all, and when its tied down, there is little it can do.

This is French film, but language should not be a barrier to anyone watching it. There is very little dialogue in the film at all – and what little there is, is fairly meaningless. You don’t need dialogue in this film. It is a film that children can watch and enjoy – but I think adults will enjoy more. Children don’t realize how good they have it when their children – they have to wait until they’re adults to figure that out.

The film is a masterwork of both cinematography and editing. Lamorisse’s camera tracks the balloon through the streets of Paris – shot in a dull, gray palate, except for the bright red balloon – as the balloon goes all over. The tracking shots are masterfully controlled and glide effortlessly. The editing picks up when the bullies get their hands on the balloon – and then the balloon escapes, and goes on the run with the boy, as the boys close in on all sides.

I find I have very little to say about this movie that I adored so much. It really is a very simple film – and yet I often find that sometimes the best films, the ones that move us the most emotionally, are the ones that are the simplest. Here is a film about a boy who loved a balloon – and a balloon who loved him back. It really is that simple, and yet when the finale of the movie comes, I couldn’t help it, but I got just as swept up as the boy in the movie. Yes, it is a simple film. But it’s also a masterwork.

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