Flight of the Red Balloon (2008)

Dir. Hsiao-hsien Hou

Kevin has the best chance of liking this, although this would not be the Hou film I would recommend. I wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel and Jill. I really like Hou, but I just did not get this film. This got a metacritic score of 86.

Remember when they would show films–not videos–in elementary school. One of those films I remember was called, The Red Balloon. The film was about this red balloon that followed this little boy around Paris. (I believe there was no dialogue.) Flight of the Red Balloon is takes that film and builds upon it, in a way that pays homage to it. The basic plot is an eccentric puppet performer, Suzanne (Juliet Binoche), hires a nanny (Fang Song) to watch her son, Simon. Slowly, we learn about the problems Suzanne faces in her life–some involving a husband(?) who has been living in a Montreal for a long time; a tenant in her apartment complex that won’t pay the rent–and just juggling her busy life. There isn’t much of a plot or story; the film is basically an art film–one that requires interpretation from the audience.

There are some art films that I click with–either during the film or soon afterward. By “click” I mean specifically that I understand and develop an interpretation of the themes, symbolism and intention of the director. Without this interpretation, I’d be totally lost and the film would seem pointless. Unfortunately, that’s what happened to me in this film. Reading the reviews from the Village Voice and The Washington Post illustrate what I mean by the film depending on an interpretation–both of which make the film interesting and more meaningful (even though I may not completely agree with the entire interpretation). Because I didn’t have a way of understanding the film, I gave the film a 4.

Not only did I not understand the story, but I had a hard time making sense of the decisions involving the camera (a lot of scenes shot in the reflection) or the editing. Perhaps, if I put more time and thought into the film, a light bulb would go off, but until then…So why a 4 and not a lower score?

I did like the feeling and images of Paris that I got from the film. One reviewer said described the movie as a tribute to Paris–which is strange in a way because I didn’t think the film was trying to do that; at the same time, I liked the urban vibe. By slowly revealing the stories and situations of the characters, the film kept my interest–because I wanted to find out what was going on–but the pacing also seemed a bit slow, which was exacerbated by the fact that I had no framework to understand the film.

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