Monday, December 7, 2009
Still relevant* 53 years after it was made, Le Ballon Rouge (1956) is no longer standard viewing for elementary students but has become instead a reminder to adults of the power of will and belief in the talismanic - both too easily given up as inconsequential to adult life. Most descriptions I read of Albert Lamorisse's film classify it as a fantasy. And perhaps it has become so, as adults grow increasingly removed from their sense of wonder and belief in the impossible. And yet, I'm not sure that I would locate this poetic flight of fancy alongside films of dragons, unicorns and supernatural magic. Rather, the red balloon is a example of that rare, illusive visual metaphor that I prize and seek in films... and so infrequently find. Categorically, I have not yet found an acceptable place for these films. "Experimental" is too broad and slightly off-putting, not to mention a bit silly when applied to a film that achieved such immediate critical acclaim (won: Palm d'Or, BAFTA, Prix Louis Delluc, etc.) at the time of its release and now clearly stands the test of time. It is more accurately placed in the realm of docu-fiction. Like other filmmakers I've been studying lately, Lamorisse's films feature the people in his life (his son Pascal and daughter Sabine in the The Red Balloon) and directly address simple themes of profound importance to the real human life. Contrary to the current mores of Hollywood, films such as this are not concerned with providing an escape from reality, nor do they embellish ordinary experience to appeal to the vaguely dissatisfied ordinary viewer. While orchestrated jumps and darts serve to anthropomorphize the red balloon, I don't believe it was ever intended to be perceived as a sentient object; The red balloon could not be the red balloon without the boy. It's action is the will of the boy. It's madcap adventure and mischievous behavior are an illustration of the boys dreams and spirit. This is why all is not lost when the balloon is pierced by the stone from a bully's slingshot. This is why the boy sails away at the end (rather fantastically, I'll admit) on a thousand balloons, each inflated with the afflatus of his belief.
*Last month A.O Scott featured the film as his "critic pick" for the New York Times.
montage from the Red Balloon (1956)