If you’re of a certain age, chances are one of your seminal childhood moviegoing experiences was Albert Lamorisse’s lovely 34-minute The Red Balloon (1956), about a Parisian boy’s friendship with a red balloon so iridescent that I incorrectly remembered the rest of the film as black-and-white. Now you can take your kids and/or yourself to a gorgeously restored new print (overseen by Pascal Lamorisse, the director’s son, who also played the boy), released in a double bill with Lamorisse pére‘s 1953 White Mane, an exquisite story of a similarly angelic lad and his horse-pal resisting capture on the shallow white plains of the Camargue. For all the seraphic beauty of the boys, neither movie resorts more than briefly to cuteness; both are escape fantasies that pay homage to the inventiveness of children in the face of dour adult oppression. In The Red Balloon, which won the Palme d’Or (and, oddly for an all but silent movie, Best Original Screenplay) at Cannes, the boy’s feet clatter over the cobblestones of a bombed-out postwar Paris, and in both films, the final images indelibly evoke the rapture and terror of being carried away—about as good a metaphor for cinema as I can think of. If you come out wondering how Lamorisse (who later died in a helicopter crash while shooting a documentary about Iran) persuaded a balloon to follow a kid around and sail over rooftops, all will be revealed (or imagined) in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s forthcoming Flight of the Red Balloon.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 6, 2007