Laura CliffordSuzanne (Juliette Binoche) is flat out with her elaborate puppet shows, teaching and caring for her two children, Simon (Simon Iteanu) and Louise (Louise Margolin), who she raised alone since her husband left her. To ease her load, she hires a Taiwanese student from Paris University, Song Fang (Fang Song), to child sit her son. Song and Simon hit it off right away and the young woman, a videomaker, becomes an important force in helping Suzanne cope with her hectic life in Flight of the Red Balloon.”
Chinese director Hsiao-hsien Hou pays homage to the 1956 short film, “The Red Balloon” by writer/director Albert Lamorisse, with his new millennium take on the story of a young Parisian boy who “adopts” the titular sphere. Simon and Song roam the streets of Paris in search for material for her video project. One object, the titular balloon, is ever-present like a mascot to the boy and his sitter, following them through the streets of the City of Light.
Meanwhile, Suzanne continues to juggle her other responsibilities that include dealing with a pair of tenants who, at best, pay their rent only occasionally. She confronts the male half of the squatters, Marc (Hippolyte Girardot), in a top-of-the-lungs verbal duel with Suzanne demanding they leave and he steadfastly refusing to vacate the premises. As such, “Flight of the Red balloon is less a linear story and more a tonal poem of the tiny family’s life. It is a lyrical, beautiful film that is engrossing despite its leisurely pace.
Helmer Hou does a sound job marshalling his tiny cast with Juliette Binoche effective as the put upon Suzanne. Binoche gives life to the trials and tribulation of her character as Suzanne is pulled in different directions daily. Feng Song, as Song, is an anchor in Suzanne and Simon’s life as she takes over caring for her ward. Young Simon Iteanu is very good as a young boy who treats the streets of Paris as his personal playground. The supporting cast help flesh out the background with solid dimension.
Techs are first rate, especially Pin Bing Lee’s lensing of the Parisian street and the panorama of that beautiful city. Costume, especially for Binoche, and production design are well done, too.
During the opening minutes of “Flight of the Red Balloon,” I became annoyed with the gentle floating of the titular orb. Soon, though, I became enthralled by the film’s lyrical note and actually was captivated by the presence of the red balloon. It just goes to show what can be done with a quiet, reflective film that does not have car chases, shoot outs or mayhem, just a strong dose of beauty and imagination. I give it a B+.
Laura gives "Flight of the Red Balloon" a B.
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