Friday, December 12, 2008

Flight of the Red Balloon

Flight of the Red Balloon (Hou Hsai-hsien, 2008) [8]

Flight of the Red Balloon is the type of the film that requires patience. You have to sit back and take it all in, as the film never offers a big payoff but is instead a series of exquisite scenes and shots that resonate far after the viewing is done. Even now after a few days, my appreciation for this film continues to grow. At what first seemed to be a slow, uneventful film turns out to be an exceptionally lyrical examination of childhood and its experiences.

I haven't had any exposure to Hou's films or the famed Albert Lamoriss original, The Red Balloon, which has become almost a cliche for "French film." Hous is obviously paying reverence for the original but is also going in his own way. Hou keeps the film firmly rooted in reality, as most of it is a close examination of a boy named Simon and his family, a frantic puppeteer mother played wonderfully by Juliette Binoche, as well as his Chinese nanny and film student, Song. Hou uses said red balloon as a formal element, hovering above Simon the same way the film hovers over everything, taking all the actions of these characters in, examining but never judging them. It just exists there, much the same way the film does, capturing the harried exasperation of Binoche's character, Simon's piano lessons and video games, and the cramped, cluttered spaces they occupy. Hou creates meticulous and supremely crafted images, ones that are a reflection of Simon's loneliness and other emotions. The character's situations are explored but are never solved, much the way the balloon could never solve these issues, at the expense of having a tidy resolution. Hou has created a world that is downbeat but still exceptionally profound and moving in its own understated way. Flight of the Red Balloon is a film that takes its time and in doing that, creates something immensely beautiful in its simple features.

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