Flight of the Red Balloon

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Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao-hsien delivers a picture of life in Paris, and homage to Albert Lamorisse's beloved Red Balloon (1956).

There's often a woman at the centre of Hou's pictures and here it is Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), barely juggling the conflicting demands of motherhood, infuriating apartment-sharing arrangements, and her art as a professional puppeteer. To help care for her seven-year-old son, she hires a Chinese film student who's working on a remake of the Lamorisse film. It's not Hou's way to build a dramatic structure around a character's difficulties. He doesn't need to: no other filmmaker alive possesses his ability to distil the essential dramas of people's lives into exquisitely observed sequences of everyday business. 

Trailers

Directed by

Written by

Drama

113mins

Rating: PG low level offensive language

French with English subtitles

France, Taiwan

Official Site

flicks

This delicate, snail-paced slice of Parisian life is part remake, part-homage to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 film The Red Balloon (click for more on this film), in a which a boy is followed around the streets of the French capital by a helium-filled crimson bladder with a life of its own. This time it is Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou who uses the floating orb for all sorts of emblematic, metaphorical brain stimulation, while Montmartre and Notre Dame shimmer and hum away in the background.

The balloon-stalked youngster in this film is the sweetly chilled out, piano and Playstation playing Simon (Simon Iteanu), whose single mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche, bleached blonde and stressed) is juggling her responsibilities to him with her work as a puppeteer/voice actress, while also dealing with troublesome rent-owing tenants. She employs as a nanny Song (Song Fang), a Chinese film student, who not only gives us a focal point for getting to know the intricacies of Simon and Suzanne’s world, but also ties this and the original film together by hitting the streets with her digicam, claiming Lamorisse’s classic as inspiration.

It’s self-referentially artistic, verging on the soporific in places, but there’s no doubting the observational perfection and gentle beauty of Hou’s direction – all reflections, shadows and lingering close-ups. Binoche is typically superb too – all the dialogue in the film was improvised and you really do feel like you’re peeking nosily in at someone’s real life. Add in those glistening shots of spires and cobblestones (avec ballon rouge) and you have a thrill-free but masterfully crafted couple of hours.

BBC

press

It's a bit like eavesdropping on a bus - occasionally you hear something interesting, but it's mostly mundane.

Guardian [UK]

press

A pleasant if supercilious homage.

New York Times

press

In the end what elevates Mr. Hou’s films to the sublime -- and this one comes close at times -- are not the stories but their telling.

NZ Herald [Peter Calder]

press

A superb display of pure cinema from one of the masters of the medium.

Premiere

press

This is not a children's picture, although it touches on the imaginative powers and emotional resilience of children. It's another slice of Hou's distinctly poetic realism, and as such, also a kind of tribute to Paris -- the Paris of both today and of the older film.

Stuff.co.nz [Tracey Bond]

press

There are no Hollywood chase scenes, no dramatic plot twists, and nothing much happens. But Hou still manages to create a warm portrait of off-beat family life in Paris, and that's the beauty of Flight of the Red Balloon.

Variety [USA]

press

This eloquent study of loneliness and postmodern drift likely will be received with more admiration than rapture by the helmer's followers. But Juliette Binoche's turn as a harried single mom and pic's enlivening portrait of domestic rupture make this a highly accessible Hou.