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FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON

Director: HOU HSIAO-HSIEN

FRANCE • 2007 • SUBTITLED • COLOUR • DOLBY DIGITAL STEREO • 113 MIN


COMMISSIONED BY THE MUSEE D’ORSAY, THE GREAT TAIWANESE DIRECTOR HOU HSIAO-HSIEN ADAPTS HIS QUIETLY MELANCHOLIC ART TO THE BEAUTIES OF THE PARIS SKYLINE AND AN EXCEPTIONAL PERFORMANCE FROM JULIETTE BINOCHE.
Albert Lamorisse’s much-loved 1956 short The Red Balloon obviously travelled as far as Taiwan, since Hou draws on it for this portrait of rag-tag modern family life, this time the red balloon following schoolboy Simon Iteanu as he meets up with his Chinese-born French-speaking film-student nanny (Song Fang), who sees him home while his mum, a scruffily peroxided Binoche, dashes about putting on a puppet show inspired by Chinese folk tales. What with an absent partner in Montreal, nightmare neighbours downstairs, and her own tiny apartment too cramped for her son’s piano, her life seems to be in constant chaos, but she loves her boy—even if she doesn’t get to spend enough time with him. Song, meanwhile, is shooting her own tribute to the Lamorisse classic, somehow attaching her own feelings of displacement to her adoptive family’s quotidian travails. And then there’s the red balloon bobbing along over streets and skylights, representing . . . ? The beauties we’re too busy to notice as we’re immersed in the everyday perhaps, elusive memories of better times, or happiness just out of reach? Hou’s too sophisticated a film-maker to limit himself to specifics, but as Binoche excels herself in semi-improvised scenes of ordinary domesticity, the film’s deceptive reserve generates a surprisingly potent emotional undertow. It looks exquisite, but it’s the film’s unresolved longings which make it so delicately haunting.—Trevor Johnston.

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