In Paris, Chinese cinema student Song Fang is hired to work as the nanny of Simon by his divorced mother Suzanne, who works voicing marionettes in a theater. Suzanne is having troubles with her tenant Marc, who does not pay the rent, while she waits for the return of her older daughter Louise, who lives with her father in Brussels. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
The film knows its audience and it caters to them loyally, however won't convert any non-believers.
Art of a very high order, Hsiao-hsein Hao directs the Musee d'Orsay commissioned "The Flight of the Red Balloon", a stand-alone film paying homage to the Lamorisse's 1956 film favorite "The Red Balloon". Directed with class and elegance, although stumbles in indulgent overextended shots and pacing problems, it pays dividends to the patient as we are welcomed into a claustrophobic apartment inhabited by a mother and son struggling to come to grips with a marital separation. The film knows its audience and it caters to them loyally, however won't convert any non-believers.
Although not explicit, the sense of chaos is however present right from the point where we enter Suzanne and Simon's apartment in Paris. Clearly not in control of her marital and maternal situation, she drowns herself in work as a puppet show narrator where she can control the fantastic as opposed to her real and disorganized state. Enter Song, a film student who acts as Simon's surrogate as his mother deals with this transitional process.
The film's screenplay is as light as a helium balloon, we enter their micro-cosmos through Song, almost this film's allegory towards the original's red balloon as its voyeuristic anchor nonjudgmental and omnipresent. Although certain scenes clearly leads to nowhere, they are nonetheless welcome as it highlights the reality of the situation and also the characters' desire to reach back to normal. It is clear here, Suzanne desires a somewhat 'normal' family life: almost pleading for her eldest daughter to move back to Paris and for his ex-husband's friend/tenant to leave the property. A daughter of divorce, she knows it is imperative that a routine has to be established.
The way Hao films this, it has this odd certain detachment towards the characters, almost a "Wings of Desire" approach, static camera in tow. We see a single mother in despair but the audience isn't allowed to feel anything about it: almost factual. Binoche personifies Suzanne with a quiet dignity and pride that her devastation is disallowed to be brought to the surface, but of course, when things build up to a boil, we can sense her immediate discomfort and frustration.
What seems like a nonchalant Simon, he is clearly affected too, as he can't even distinguish his own family tree, to the effect that even the audience can be driven to confusion. He becomes distant to his own mother, finding solace through nostalgia with a long summer with his sister. He and Suzanne's relationship is also obviously affected, as most of the film, they indulge in small talk and when the mother desires for an eye to eye contact, he looks away.
The decision to film this in a calming atmosphere as opposed to the chaos in the characters' is a smart idea: it highlights the juxtaposition even more. As opposed to the Lamorisse classic, the maternal figure here is in focus. The film works within its parameters and Hao does not belittle its audience of course, only to those willing to be engulfed by it.
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