Ankur Agarwal reviews Hou Hsiao-hsien’s first Western film, Flight of the Red Balloon.
A film that seldom, seldom is made: where the film chooses to understate everything, only to lend greater force to the argument itself, only to not to indulge in any of dramatic ploys and just soak in a story of a lonely mother fighting for life and happiness and a little comfort and independence, only to gradually make the audience feel a part of sun-seeped Paris, of serene France, of so many colors and life everywhere, even puppets. A masterpiece from Hou Hsiao-hsien, the film has often been miscriticised for being too vague, too ambiguous, maybe the critics were not ready for a simple working mother and her child’s story. I find only Manohla Dargis from the NY Times doing rich justice to the film
Based on the 1956 Lamorisse classic The Red Balloon, this film however turns things a little more in a direction not conventionally taken: the red balloon stands less for innocence, more for the frailty of life, for the unexpected trivialities that disturb the harmony of your life day in and day out. Juliette Binoche does it yet, yet again: another warm performance, another energy-filled one, and once again mainstay of the film. Fang Song gives in a brilliant performance as the Chinese film student, calmly watching this French family of Binoche’s, her life with all her attendant grapplings with minor issues and neighbours, and of course Paris. She almost acts a critical element on Binoche’s way of life: yes, her work with puppets notwithstanding, the delight and passion with which she independently stands on her own, is she right in continuing on with Paris and thus deal with a thousand other small issues, which do not even leave her enough time with her own son, Simon. The red balloon hovers around Simon, but only as a guardian angel? Or something which he is always unable to reach, which he cannot reach for: dreams which elude as soon as he would be awake, at most only an image of that dream the reality. It is this sadness, this gentle mournfulness which tinges the film throughout and makes the film stand out among the others.