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Flight of the Red Balloon
DVD disk
11.07.2008 By: Mathew Plale
Flight of the Red Balloon order
Director:
Hou Hsiao Hsien

Actors:
Juliette Binoche
Fang Song
Simon Iteanu

Rating:
Movie:
Extras:
Overall:

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WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
In this homage to the 1956 short film The Red Balloon, a Parisian family's life is seen through the eyes of a Chinese babysitter (Song).
IS IT A GOOD MOVIE?
Hou Hsiao Hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon is exactly the kind of picture that, in eight grade (my dawning year of insistently loving all foreign cinema, great or lousy), I wouldíve went crazy for: ďOh, itís so slow and French! Oh, and it played at Cannes!Ē Maybe itís that the film isnít nearly as good as the Cannes-stamp suggests, or maybe itís this cough thatís made me miserable all week, but a flight this is not.

Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge) is an homage to Albert Lamorisseís 1956 short film, The Red Balloon; and Hou is so determined to instill his passion for the short (through identical imagery and verbal references) into us, he loses sight of what Lamorisseís work represented. The heart of the storyóthe boy and the balloonóare still here (though in pieces), but the sphere of heliumís significance (dare I say ďsymbolismĒ) is lost in Houís translation. Yes, the balloon photographs nicely against the Parisian background, but thatís as far as Hou is willing to take it.

While extending the running time from 34 minutes to 115, Hou adds more characters. In addition to the boy (Simon Iteanu) and his balloon, there is his mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), and his babysitter, Song (Fang Song). The performers are fine, particularly Song as the Chinese babysitter/student filmmaker and Binoche as the busy puppeteer, but none of the characters nor the scenes they create are nurtured to develop the story.

This is Taiwan-raised Houís first film shot outside of Asia and, with the aid of cinematographer Pin Bing Lee (who began working with Hou on 1985ís A Time to Live and a Time to Die), he makes Paris his second home, turning the camera to long, observant takes of the streets and homes of the city.

Flight of the Red Balloon is not easy to dislikeóitís gorgeously photographed and well-acted, but Houís work is a test of patience and a disloyal tribute to one of the most beloved of short films.
THE EXTRAS
Nothing.
FINAL DIAGNOSIS
Flight of the Red Balloon looks stunning and the performances are good, but there's nothing here that channels the emotions of "the original." Even still, it's easy to see why some might be enchanted by the film. Like I said, maybe it's this lousy cough I've got.
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