Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Flight of the Red Balloon (2008)

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Flight of the Red Balloon is a remake of the 1956 short-film The Red Balloon, directed by Taiwanese director Hsiao-hsien Hou and shot in Paris in French. The story revolves around a young boy, Simon, who continually eyes a red balloon as the everyday chaos of urban life surrounds him. His mother, played by Julitte Binoche, is a stressed out single mother trying to earn a living as a voice over actor for puppet shows while maintaining a somewhat normal family life at home. She loves her son, but has little time to spend with him if she intends to pay the rent, so she hires Song (played by Fang Song), a Taiwanese student, to babysit him. Simon and Song develop a close relationship and share their imagination to pass their time together. Hou's shooting style is very unique, as Flight of the Red Balloon plays out as an extremely slow paced movie, and his choice of a quiet, ambient score suits his camera work well. Individual scenes may last up to five minutes with the shot at the same camera angle, and there are many long, silent shots of Paris, the sky, and the ever-present red balloon. The calm, reflective pace is juxtaposed against the unsteady lifestyle of the characters, and the film is deep in symbolism. As in the original, the balloon represents the innocent spirit of childhood as Simon seems oblivious to the disordered adult-life surrounding him when he has his Playstation, piano, books, and love for his mom to worry about. The cast fit together quite well, and at times appear as if they are a real family, which makes the film successful as a meditation on urban life and unconventional families. The visuals are appealing, and the acting is engaging, but the pace is so slow that some may have trouble maintaining constant attention or even alertness for the entire film. The original short was only 34 minutes, and this remake comes in at under two hours but feels like every bit of 113 minutes. Flight of the Red Balloon is pretty and worthwhile, but material seems stretched. Perhaps Hou should have split the difference between his version and the original at around 80 minutes.

Good for: fans of French films, art film fans, diehard fans of the original

Bad for: easily bored, people who dislike subtitles, tired people

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