The Red Balloon

red balloon 1Once in a while it is good to dip into the classics especially if that film in consideration is one that is new to you. Of course the word classic is bandied about so much these days that it is difficult to really know if the
plaudit is deserving. Universal praise is somewhat uncommon now. It is usually reserved for older films that have had time to mature and work their magic on their audience through repeat viewings. The short film The Red Balloon is unique in its praise. As well as popularity amongst viewers (8.1 on IMDB ) it was also the recipient of three major film prizes in the form of an Oscar, A BAFTA and the Palme d’Or in 1956.

We meet a young boy Pascal on his way to school in Paris. He notices a large reb balloon tethered to a lamp post.  Pascal climbs the post and frees the balloon. Pascal takes the balloon to school with him, leaving it in the care of the school janitor for safe keeping. After school he returns home to his upstairs apartment. His mother decides the balloon should not be in the house, opens a window and releases the balloon. Instead of it floating up and away the balloon hangs outside the window until Pascal can retrieve it. The next day Pascal once again takes the balloon with him. It seem the balloon has formed an attachment to the boy and follow s him even without being held. Te balloon has taken on a life of its own. The boy and balloon are inseparable. When the school master tries to take the balloon away the bright red balloon outwits him to great comic effect. Alas the aster is not the only one wanting rid of the balloon. Other boys have seen what it can do and are jealous of Pascal. They steal the balloon with the intention of killing it. Pascal must find his new friend and try to save it from destruction.

red balloon  2This film is an absolute delight. It is almost a perfect film. There is something quite fascinating in seeing the interaction between the boy and the balloon. The balloon is a vivid red that makes it stand out from every single thing around it. The city is a mix of greys and blues. It looks tired and run down in comparison to the bright sheen of the balloon. Remember this was shot in 1956 when Paris was still carried the visible scars of  the second world war. There area few scenes where the boy is walking and a street leads to a crumbling ruin of a building. This bleak backdrop makes the balloon seem all the more lifelike. Without the use of modern special effects the ability of the film makers to bring the balloon to life is astonishing. At several points I was left wondering how they managed to achieve some of the movements. Instead of taking me out of the film it increased my enjoyment of the film.

The film has very little dialogue, instead relying of the story telling qualities of the visuals. The boy is naturalistic and never overplays his part. He manages to maintain a sense of wonder whenever he is around the balloon. In contrast the adults in the film all seem to be jaded tired and un-interested. They cannot see the balloon for what it is and only see a problem and nuisance. The way that the balloon reacts is reminiscent of a an energetic puppy. It cannot take a hint that it should move out of the way instead it tries to have fun provoking a more irate reaction from the adult.

Without giving anything away, the final scenes are superb with a very fitting ending to a fantastically imaginative story. A lovely, gentle and engaging film. Highly recommended.

John McArthur
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