Thursday, February 23, 2017

Short Take: The Red Balloon

Writer-director Albert Lamorisse’s lovely 1956 short The Red Balloon is the best kind of children’s film. It doesn’t condescend to younger viewers, and it doesn’t insult the intelligence of older ones. The story tells of a small Parisian boy (Pascal Lamorisse, the filmmaker’s son) who finds a balloon tied to a lamppost on his way to school. He unties the balloon and takes it with him. The day isn’t over before it’s clear the balloon has a mind of its own, and has become very loyal to the boy. It follows him wherever he goes. The two find that friendship can often be at odds with propriety, and it can also be a target for the ugliness of envy. The climax and epilogue are a conspicuously Christian allegory, and it’s a tribute to Lamorisse’s grace as a storyteller that these latter sections never seem hackneyed or overdone. The most effective aspect of his treatment is the extraordinary use of locations. Most of the film was shot in the working-poor neighborhood of Montparnasse, and the hard-edged social-realist visuals act as a tonic for the material’s sentimentality. The picture is sweet without ever feeling mushy. The documentary quality also makes the magical aspects of the story all the more effective. Everything feels so true to life that the uncanny doesn’t seem the least bit discordant. The cinematographer was Edmond Séchan. Maurice Le Roux provided the excellent score. Among the film’s many honors are the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’or, and the U. S. Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The running time is 35 minutes.

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