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The Zen of the quotidian, in Paris
Chris Knipp26 September 2007
Taiwanese master Hou Hsiao Hsien just made a film in Japan, 'Café Lumiere.' This, his first foray out of Asia to make a film, was commissioned by the Musee d'Orsay in Paris. It's a precise study of the quotidian, and since that quotidian is in Paris, it's particularly graceful and lovely, despite the themes of urban loneliness and stress, which seem to grow seamlessly out of the last film into this one. It's about a frazzled lady named Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) with over-bleached, unruly hair. Her life is a little like her coiffure—she can't quite seem to control it. She has a seven-year-old boy named Simon (Simon Iteanu), with a fine profile and a big mop of hair, and an annoying downstairs lodger (Hipolyte Girardot), a friend of her absent boyfriend, who, it emerges, hasn't paid his rent in a year. Suzanne's work is unusual. She puts on Chinese puppet plays, for which she does all the voices. As the film begins, she picks up Song (Song Fang), a Taiwanese girl studying film-making, fluent in French, who is going to be a "child minder" for Simon. And then she picks up Simon at school, introduces them, and takes them to the apartment.

The Musee d'Orsay lent Hou a copy of Albert Lamorisse's 1956 classic 34-minute short 'The Red Balloon.' This is a kind of homage to and riff on it. There's a big red balloon that keeps following Simon. Song also starts shooting a little film of Simon with a red balloon.

Hou admits he didn't know a lot about Paris. Somehow he got hold of a copy of Adam Gopnik's book about the city, 'Paris to the Moon,' an enlightening and truly smart study of the French and their capital that grew out of the years when Gopnik was The New Yorker's correspondent there—when he also had young a little boy along. From Gopnik Hou learned about how old Parisian cafes still have pinball machines ('flippers', the French call them). He also learned that the merry-go-round in the Jardin du Luxembourg has little rings the children catch on sticks as they ride around (like knights in the days of jousting). Hou put both those things in his movie. He says that once he had Simon's school and Suzanne's apartment, the film was safely under way. He provided a very detailed scenario (penned by Hou with co-writer and producer François Margolin) complete with full back stories, but the actors had to decide what to say in each of their scenes. They did, quite convincingly.

Hou's life has been full of puppets from childhood, and he made a film about a puppet master. This time he incorporates a classic Chinese puppet story about a very determined hero: he meant it to describe Suzanne, who creates a new version of it. He also brings in a visiting Chinese puppet master. Suzanne calls in Song to act as interpreter for the puppet master during his visit, and also asks her to transfer some old family films to disk. The lines between filmmaker and story, actors and their characters, blur at times.

Flight may be seen as a contrast of moods. That tenant downstairs has become a real annoyance. Simon's father has been away as a writer in residence at a Montreal university for longer than he planned. These two things are enough to make Suzanne fly off the handle whenever she comes home. But Song and Simon are calm souls, and they hit it off from the start. With Simon, all is going well. He's happy with his young life. Math, spelling, flipper, wandering Paris with Song, catching the rings at the Jardin du Luxembourg, taking his piano lessons: the world according to Simon is full and good. Suzanne hugs Simon as if to draw comfort from his love and his serenity.

Hou has a wonderfully light touch. Changes of scene feel exactly right. The red balloon and the occasional judiciously placed pale yellow filter by Hou's DP Mark Lee Ping Bing make the Parisian interiors seem almost Chinese, and beautiful in their cozy clutter. Let's not forget that red is the luckiest color in Chinee culture.

You could say that nothing really happens in Hou's red balloon story. Like other auteur-artist filmmakers, he requires patience of his audience. But nothing in particular has to happen, because he stages his scenes with such grace and specificity that it's a pleasure to watch them unfold; a lesson in life lived for its zen here-and-now-ness. Occasionally perhaps here the absence of emotional conflicts or suspense leads to momentary longeurs, but one's still left feeling satisfied. Clever Hou, who is clearly a master of seizing the moment, can make you feel as much at home in Paris as any French director. Though Flight of the Red Balloon may generate little excitement, it provides continual aesthetic pleasure, and at the same time has the feel of daily life in every scene. This is a method that can incorporate anything, so at the end the Musee d'Orsay is easily worked in, through Simon's class coming for a visit and looking at a painting by Félix Vallotton—of a landscape with a red balloon. It's in the nature of good film acting that Binoche's character, though sketched in only with a few brief scenes, seems quite three-dimensional. This is Hou at his most accessible, but there is more solidity to this film than might at first appear.

An official selection of the New York Film Festival 2007. ©Chris Knipp 2007
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Lovely and nostalgic
Howard Schumann14 October 2007
Much of the strength of Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien's films lies in the astute powers of his observation and a sensibility that can turn details of everyday life into cinematic poetry. In "Café Lumiere", his lyrical tribute to Japanese auteur Yasujiro Ozu, the focus was on the streets of Tokyo, Japan. In his latest film, the lovely and nostalgic Flight of the Red Balloon, Hou and cinematographer Lee Ping-bing bring their observational camera to the streets of Paris, focusing on a Parisian family as they walk the streets, sit in the park, shop at stores, and visit a puppet theater, where Suzanne, the family's matriarch (Juliette Binoche) works as a puppeteer, writing the material and providing the vocal dramatics for the shows.

Unlike the missteps of Hou's last film "Three Times" where innocuous pop ballads filled the air, the only sounds we hear are the ambient sounds of the environment: people talking, traffic, and street noises. Filmed as the first in a series commemorating the 20th anniversary of Paris' Musee d'Orsay, Flight reprieves the magic of the original "Red Balloon", a thirty-minute short by Albert Lamorisse from 1956 that has attained the status of a children's classic. The balloon is not as intrusive in the update but still maintains a mysterious if more distant presence. In the opening scenes a young boy named Simon (Simon Iteanu) attempts to coax the red balloon from its perch high above a Parisian subway station.

The balloon decides to hover for a while and then begins to follow Simon as he makes his way home from school on buses and trains. Going on hiatus, the balloon reappears now and then but takes center stage once again at the film's conclusion. The plot is woven around Simon's mother and the frustrations she faces in being a single mom: working with her puppet show, dealing with recalcitrant tenants as a landlord, interacting with her gracious Taiwanese nanny Song (Song Fang), arranging for child care and piano lessons, talking on the phone to her boy friend in Montreal, barely having enough time to provide affection for young Simon who is quiet and lonely, estranged from his sister who lives in Brussels and only visits periodically.

It is a story no different than thousands of other split households, but the ability of the impeccable cast and the lyricism of Hou bring the film alive. In spite of her emotional ups and downs, Suzanne never loses control and Hou always maintains a wistful, almost lighthearted approach as people come and go in the crowded apartment: a piano tuner tries to do his job over the clamor of voices, the couple from downstairs cook vegetables in the kitchen, and Suzanne's lawyer discusses her options in dealing with the tenant behind in his rent.

The main character of the film, however, though not always on camera, is the balloon, a shimmering object in the sky that provides the emotional center of the film. While there are no overt magical sequences as in the original, the appearance of the balloon has a calming effect, suggesting that when we lose perspective and become too bogged down in the "stuff" of life, there is a presence that follows and guides us into the night.
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Like a Memory.....
minoc28 April 2008
First things first, this is the slowest movie I have ever seen. Video shots are extremely long, and many shots are of the characters are of long mundane activities. It reminds me of sitting and chatting to friends on our porch for hours every evening in the south.

Yet I liked it. I found the move almost like a dream - and as I walked out of the theater, It was like I had been in Paris for the last week.

I would recommend this to anyone who is open to new experiences, or to see a glimpse of the world from a unique perspective. And if the magic buried in the subtle moments of life is food for your soul, this is your ticket.

If you want conflict, action, or comedy, this is not your pooch.

Aww heck., take the plunge - watch something unique, and do not bring a watch.
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Carrying on in the traditional Hou Hsiao-hsien style, but in French
Harry T. Yung8 September 2007
Watched at the Toronto International Film Festival, with a personal appearance by Juliette Binoche, a favourite guest of the TIFF.

Those who have watched "The red balloon" (1956) will never forget it. "Flight of the Red Balloon", Hou's Hsiao-hsien's second foreign language (i.e. non-Chinese) film, is not a remake of this all-time classic. Rather, Hou's film pays tribute to it, as well as borrows from it the obvious motif.

Those who have watched his first foreign language film Japanese "Cafe Lumiere" (2003) would recognize Hou's unassuming style: slow, languid pace visually; complete silence to dreamy piano in the audio department. This film actually already has more "action" (for want of a better word) than most of Hou's other films. Wandering nonchalantly around various slices of daily life of a simple family in Paris, the film starts with Song (Fang Song), a film student from Beijing, taking up a post as nanny of little kid Simon (Simon Iteanu) whose divorced mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) is a busy actress.

Revolving around the three principle characters, the film depicts various things – alternatively amusing, frustrating, touching, mundane, inspiring – at that particular time in their lives: Song and Simon getting to know each other, Suzanne's interesting current assignment of supplying all spoken dialogue in a puppetry theatre (how wonderfully Binoche does that!), hassles with an irresponsible basement tenant, Song's self-initiated project of filming a "red balloon" sequence with Simon as the subject, Simon's longing for his loving elder sister currently sojourning in Brussels, and more.

It is through sharing with them their simple daily lives rather than earth-shattering emotional turmoil that we come to know and care for these characters. In Hou's usual unassuming style, meticulous attention is given to simple details, things so simple that a crafty Hollywood screen-writer wouldn't dream of writing. Example. Suzanne brings home an armful of grocery as presents and, in high spirit, dumps them on the kitchen table, hitting the overhead lamp with the upswing of her arm. Completely as-a-matter-of-course, little Simon says, "Mind the lamp". Example. Two workmen, after a tough negotiation with the staircase, succeed in moving a piano upstairs, during which time Song and Simon wait patiently downstairs. As the workmen, after a friendly chat with Suzanne and receiving their fee, walk out of the door, Song walks in, carrying the piano stool. Suzanne exclaims, "Oh, I've forgotten all about the piano stool!"

Going back to the title, the red balloon, as mentioned, is used as a recurring motif, not too frequently, but just at the right moments to punctuate the mood of the film. This is vintage Hou and brilliant Pinoche, except to those few who walked out of the TIFF screening, obviously out of boredom (and at Cannes early this year too, from a review I've read). But then there are always a few of those.
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The film knows its audience and it caters to them loyally, however won't convert any non-believers.
crey01424 July 2008
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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A Quiet,Loving Meditation On Life (and sometimes art)
Seamus282926 May 2008
Note:anyone who fancies the cinematic overkill bombast of Jerry Bruckheimer,Michael Bay,Roland Emerich,etc.....PLEASE STAY AWAY FROM THIS FILM! That said,'Flight Of The Red Balloon' is a beautiful little film on the human condition. It comments on the Eurocentric lifestyle, as viewed through the Asian perspective. The story concerns a single mother,played to perfection by Juliette Binoche (always welcome on screen,as I've been an ardent fan of her work since 'The Unbearable Lightness Of Being')trying to raise her young son (Simon Iteanu),with an older daughter away at school, all without her absent husband. Also in the mix is an attractive young film student from Taiwan (played by Song Fang)who has been hired as Simon's Au pair,who fits in nicely among the others. Taiwan director Hou Hsiao Hsien (Flowers Of Shanghai, Three Times)has crafted a film that is mesmerizing to look at. Despite the rather hum drum goings on that transpire that in the hands of another director would be unwatchable, Hsien manages to make every day events seem dreamy. The film is a homage (of sorts)to Albert Lamorisse's now legendary film short,'The Red Balloon',in which the balloon acts as companion to a lonely French boy. The balloon,in this case acts as a narrative device,bringing the individual elements together (the humans)for nearly two hours that you can't tear your gaze from.
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They call it "cinema d'auteur"
cosmin-pasnicu1 September 2008
At first I was surprised to see such a negative first review. After looking through the other comments I understood why. There is no middle impression on this movie. It's one of those movies that you love or hate/dislike. It's not a "good" or "not bad" movie.

I just think it touched some people, like me. I spent 1 1/2 years in Paris and I have a profound passion for French culture since I was a kid. For me, after living for more than 5 months in China, it felt good to remember Paris. I saw a movie that depicted only a snapshot of some people's lives. Their way of living, their problems are typical to the French society.

One user was talking about plot, drama. For me, this movie was more about feelings than actions. Some smiles, some tears, the image, the people. It made me remember "Paris, je t'aime".

I think that if I didn't have the Paris experience or an affinity for the French society, the movie wouldn't have touched so much. I think there's a second level in this movie that is accessible only to those who understand the French society.
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An Extemporaneous Homage to Albert Lamorisse's THE RED BALLOON
gradyharp24 August 2008
Somewhere the highly regarded Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien had the idea of paying homage to the 1956 classic Albert Lamorisse film THE RED BALLOON, a tender story of a child's interaction with a nearly animate floating balloon, and while there is indeed an short introduction of a small boy addressing an errant red balloon floating in Paris, the 'homage' stops there. What follows is an overly long, frustratingly impromptu series of scenes that lack cohesion and resolution.

THE FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (Le Voyage du balloon rouge) is a prolonged (113 minutes) series of scenes that stutter along with the same sort of wandering course of the occasionally visible red balloon to present moments in the life of a disheveled, frumpy, single mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) whose income depends on her fascination and obsession with Chinese marionette presentations for which she supplies the backstage voice for all of the characters. Her absent 'husband/boyfriend' has left her to write in Montreal while Suzanne must care for her young son Simon (Simon Iteanu) with the help of a newly hired Taiwanese photographer nanny Song (Fang Song) while her daughter resides in Brussels. This disheveled household is further complicated by the freeloading Marc (Hippolyte Girardot), the friend of her absentee 'husband', by Simon's piano lessons taught by Anna (Anna Sigalevitch), and by impossible conflicting schedules for marionette performances, partially relieved by Song's quiet ability to take Simon on adventures outside the confines of the cluttered little space they all call home. The only quieting element of this film is the occasional appearance of the 'guardian angel' red balloon, which seems to be a symbol for defining the real world of Simon and the illusory world he craves. The dialogue as written by Hou and François Margolin is choppy and the camera work and constant meandering piano music seem extemporaneous: there are few resolutions to the individual stories that are only hinted. Juliette Binoche is a solid actress able to make the most of a minimal script and horrendous costuming and makeup: her moments of being the voice of marionettes are magical. But this Red Balloon just doesn't take flight in the context of this homage. As with the rest of the film the balloon just floats off at the end. The viewer needs a lot of patience with this film! Grady Harp
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Pointless and Boring
Claudio Carvalho3 January 2010
In Paris, the Chinese student of cinema Song Fang (Song Fang) is hired to work as the nanny of Simon (Simon Iteanu) by his divorced mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) that works dubbing marionettes in a theater. Suzanne is having troubles with her tenant Marc (Hyppolyte Girarddot) that does not pay the rent while she waits for the return of her older daughter Louise (Louise Margolin) that lives with her father in Brussels.

"Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge" is a pointless and boring movie about the quotidian life of a woman that dubs marionettes and lives alone with her beloved son. I cannot understand the hype surrounding this disappointing movie that goes nowhere, where the greatest excitement is when the workers move the piano to the upper floor and the greatest curiosity for those that have never played piano is when the technician tunes up the same piano. The pretentious director Hsiao-hsien Hou includes a red balloon to give the appearance of cult-movie to this forgettable flick that wastes the talented Juliette Binoche in a dull story. My vote is five.

Title (Brazil): "A Viagem do Balão Vermelho" ("The Voyage of the Red Balloon")
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The most mundane movie I've ever seen
jmc47698 August 2008
Flight of the Red Balloon may be the most mundane movie I've ever seen. This is one of those slice-of-life movies in which there is no strong story line to move things forward. Most of the movie is about ordinary, everyday events that have only the barest hint of drama. In one typical scene, the characters spend several minutes discussing how many pancakes they want to eat. Like the Seinfeld TV show, this is a movie about nothing, but it lacks Seinfeld's witty, intelligent dialog. What the characters say here is just as mundane as what they do. These ordinary scenes drag on forever too. If the director had edited the movie down to maybe 45 minutes, the result might have been pleasant and mildly-entertaining. But as it stands, you can hardly stay awake to watch. Granted, the actors are good, but sadly they don't have much material to work with. And by the way, the director's use of the red balloon makes no sense. The balloon (inexplicably) follows the boy around in the beginning and the end of the movie. But in between, the balloon is nowhere to be seen except, paradoxically, in a few brief scenes as a prop in the nanny's home movie. The red balloon almost appears to have been added as an afterthought, to pay homage to the classic 1956 movie, The Red Balloon.
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Flight of the Red Balloon
Martin Teller4 January 2012
In CAFE LUMIERE, Hou paid tribute to Ozu. Here it's Lamorisse and his famous short film. I liked this more than any other Hou I've seen so far, which is odd because it seems to be considered one of his lesser films. Perhaps I only like Hou when he's not being so Hou. There was a lot to decode here, but I think one of the primary messages is the meeting of two cultures. The red balloon could be associated with the red prominent in Chinese culture, floating through and discovering Paris much in the same way as the director himself. The balloon seems to watch over and sympathize with the characters but doesn't ever connect. We have Juliette Binoche (in a very warm and relateable performance) practicing the art of Chinese puppet theater, and in her employ is Fang Song (another very likable performer), a Chinese nanny. These characters interact and even have moments of tenderness together, but they are detached, not quite involved in each other's lives. And then there are multitudes of instances being seen through windows, in reflections, through a camera, on a screen, via a child's toy. We are separated, but I see you and watch you with care. Outsiders looking in, doing what they can. I enjoyed my time with these characters and was engaged with their situations, understated though they might be. Lovely photography by one of my favorites, Mark Ping Bin Lee, and a gentle score. Makes me wonder what I've missed in Hou's other films.
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like watching paint dry
Mhgrisar7 April 2008
Albeit, some pretty colored paints. However, there is no plot, no unique or interesting characters, no journey. The movie could have ended at any time as there was no structure. Unfortunately, it took a full two hours to end, and still said nothing.

It is a slice of life of some rather uninteresting lives. It made my everyday existence seem like an epic adventure by comparison. My friend slept through most of it. I envied him. I spent as much time looking at my watch as the screen.

If you want to see pretty visuals, better off going to a museum. This was a movie that didn't move.
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Warm Like the Morning Sun and a Child's Embrace
bioconscious200914 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This morning when I looked at "The Flight of the Red Balloon" lying on our bistro table waiting to share its journey with me, I realized that I had been avoiding watching it because of how much I love Albert Lamorisse's Red Balloon from 1956. I would like to believe that it's a staple of every household (not just French), every language and art teacher's classroom, and a necessity for anyone who dares to let loose their imagination and dreams.

The first scene itself grabbed me with young Simon talking to a red balloon outside the subway entrance, so I settled down and let myself enjoy the rest. It spread a warmth inside me like when soft morning sunlight streams in through closed windows--all is lit, quiet, still, warm, and happy--oblivious of that which might have transpired the day before, lovingly inviting you to a fresh and a new beginning full of possibility.

Hou Hsiao Hsien, the 60-year-old born-in-China-raised-in-Taiwan filmmaker, packs in so much and with such adroitness that he makes everything seem simple.

The broader context of the film is dark -- frankly, realist -- a single mom, Suzanne, juggling work and care for her children (one of whom is away at school). In her struggle Suzanne races to get it to it all but winds up diluting the quality time she would spend with her 7- year old, Simon, were she not so devoted to her career in puppetry and theater (Juliette Binoche is brilliant as she gives voice to the puppets).

The child minder she hires is a Taiwanese film student, Song, who is quiet and aloof in her own way, her attention divided between taking care of Simon's needs and making progress on her film making project--a tribute to Lamorisse's Red Balloon.

Simon is self-absorbed as well. He moves from one thing to another, seamlessly, propelled by instinct and sub-consciously felt needs and desires, just as a boy his age would. We watch him practice piano, play on his Playstation, go for long walks in town with Song, speak to the red balloon, talk on the telephone, use the digital movie camera to help Song make her film, and register the adult world conflict and strife albeit peripherally.

Three different worlds and levels of consciousness and isolation. Yet, no one seems to make undue demands of one another and everyone seems to try to accommodate others' needs, and in doing so they spin a delicate web of verbal and mostly non-verbal communication-- facial expressions, body language, decor, and silence--as they meet the challenges of modern day living. Hou is able to find the reassuring simplicity in this complex world, and that's what tempers the dark hues and keeps the spirits high.

Explaining in an interview with Mathieu Menossi of événe.fr (January 2008) why he chose to re-make Lamorisse's film, Hou says, --and I translate this from French -- It's been fifty years since the original Red Balloon came out, but for me it persists like an old spirit. A soul that did not depart but continued on it's journey to contemplate our current world. (my translation)

Hou also says, --again, my translation -- The red balloon represents what resides in all of us in the form of childhood sensibilities and instinct and passion. And from my point of view, the red balloon is me, as the director.

The red balloon seems to watch over and observe everyone at play from a distance. It tells us that hope and color survive in adverse circumstances. While it does not interact with the characters in this story--save the very first scene--it does interact with us, the spectators, and has been placed there for us. The red balloon IS us, silently bobbing along, hovering, eavesdropping... It's Hou reminding us that we, too, can be playful and buoyant , rising above the vicissitudes of life that seem to tie us down. And since the balloon is silent, we can supply our own dialog as needed to complete our own story of the "flight." Ironically, but happily, we are captives of Hou's machinations.

Hou did not try re-make the same film. He paid homage to the original film by making another beautiful film, symbolically related to its predecessor. And in doing so, he also forced us to ask the question about the place and influence art has in our lives today. This is also a nod to music (piano lessons), painting (Félix Valloton's tableau in the Musée d'Orsay), oral folk traditions (the revival of puppetry as a valid and precious art form of its own), and of course the 7th art (Song making a film using her digital movie camera to pay homage to Lamorisse). The inter-textuality and the mingling of different cultures is particularly elegant and appropriate given the times we live in today.

Using the opposition between dark and light, banality and magic, pragmatism and innocence, adulthood and childhood, just like in Félix Vallonton's "le ballon" from 1899, Hou has created a masterpiece that offers layers of color and texture to the viewer with a patient eye.
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Interminable single parent angst in Bohemian Paris
Filmophile30 June 2008
I had a sinking feeling when going to see this film because I'm old enough to remember the 1956 Red Balloon, which I hated like poison, despite the critical acclaim of the day.

The redeeming features of this Hsiao-hsien Hou film are an inspired performance from Juliette Binoche, as a harassed, over-worked single mother, struggling with her career as an artist as well as trying to bring up her young son - beautifully and naturally portrayed with lots of obviously ad lib lines and actions skillfully preserved.

The grimy and claustrophobic photography of Paris - without the glamour - was inspiring, too, and apt for the film's theme. At times, there were sequences so languidly beautiful that one could forget the rest of the film and just enjoy the pictures.

But more merit than that was difficult to find. There was plenty of drama but no plot; no clear protagonist; an apparent total lack of direction; characterisation so diffuse that it was difficult to know - or want to know - much about anyone. After an hour, I still had no feeling for, or interest in any of the main characters, all of whom seemed to behave as childishly as the little boy. The Chinese girl, employed as a nanny said and did little, and it was difficult to understand why she was there at all, unless she found the French psyche as impenetrable as we did in the audience.

I suppose Jean Luc-Godard was responsible for starting the trend for aimless, directionless, plot less, pointless, self-indulgent French cinema style with his 'classic' A Bout de Soufflé.

I watched the audience for a lot of the time, since the film was so boring, and discovered that most were fidgeting and looking around the theatre as I was. And yet as we left, no one dared to say an adverse word. It's ART, I suppose, and therefore one must not mock! But it's worth remembering that even Shakespeare wrote some absolute turkeys. There, I've said it!
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a real yawner
ematerso23 June 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I was bitterly disappointed in this movie which had gotten a glowing review from one source I read but I should have paid more attention to the negative reviews on this board. The device of the freely floating and very large red balloon is at first charming, then aggravating and finally maddening! Most of the camera shots were very close in close and claustrophobic situations. Suzannes apartment, the streets of her neighborhood, the visits to her puppet theatre. Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) is one of those frazzled people who is yet canny and shrewd and not so really out of control as you would think from the condition of her apartment and her activities. She is a loving but remote mother to her 6 or 7 yr old son, Simon. The nanny, Song is properly attentive to her charge but obviously more interested in her film career. There is Simon's absent older "sister" (Is it she we see in the scenes with Simon and a Suzanne with a different hairdo?) She lives in Brussels with her grandfather. We don't know why. Marc and his girlfriend are tenants of Suzannes but don't pay rent and use her kitchen. Simon takes piano lessons in a piano in Marc's apt. Suzanne has the piano moved upstairs and we hear a long description of injuries one can receive from moving such things. We go on a train ride. There were three things I found of interest in this movie. 1) you use green rather than blue for erasing on a computer. 2) the teacher with the children in the museum was interesting. Can't remember the third so I guess it wasn't so interesting after all. I gave it 2 stars because all of the actors were good, but it may have been hard to tell. This was so bad I was praying for it to end and I am an atheist.
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You know, grownups are a bit complicated.
lastliberal14 January 2009
Oscar winner Juliette Binoche (The English Patient, Chocolat, Caché) is a pleasure to watch. In this film she plays a harried mother with her flying blond hair symbolizing the mess of her life as she tries to raise a young son, with a husband off in Montreal writing and a daughter in Brussels. Life is not easy as she tries balancing 10 things at once. But, isn't that what we all go through? She hires a Chinese film student (Fang Song in her film debut) to watch her child, Simon, (Simon Iteanu, also in his first film).

Acclaimed writer/director Hsiao-hsien Hou doesn't bother with plot in this film, and I am given to understand that much of the dialog was extemporaneous. It is a credit to Binoche and the others that is gives us a picture of French life.

The film is purported to be an homage to Albert Lamorisse's 1956 short, The Red Balloon. In this film, the balloon floats in and out of the story without apparent contribution to what is going on. It is not the balloon that becomes a friend and companion to the boy, but the nanny.

It is particularly French - a slow film requiring much patience to appreciate.
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Onanistic TORTURE!
rainmonkey15 September 2007
Warning: Spoilers
We were trapped in the middle of the row when we realized, 30 minutes into this self-serving, meandering, meaningless, selfish ego trip, that the story was going absolutely nowhere. Nowhere! Dull, plodding, pointless scenes, punctuated, not too infrequently, by a very pretty balloon. There were moments of charm with characters who initially grabbed our attention. However, these little vignettes of the life of a single mother, her son and their nanny kept increasing in number, like some chaotic bush fire... only without the heat, and all the ashes of wasted time. It kept going and going... and going... and going... people, fortunate enough to sit on an aisle seat gradually walked out, but we were trapped in the centre row of Toronto International Film Festival Zombies, watching intently as the story wandered like a drunk old man recounting days gone by to his trapped grandchildren on Thanksgiving.

If you go see this film, bring a pillow.
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Plodding, But Not Bad
crossbow010619 April 2008
Hou Hsiao Hsien is a very good director with an interesting body of work and this is his first film shot in Paris. It stars Juliette Binoche as a puppeteer voice actress, as well as Song Fang, who becomes the nanny for Ms. Binoche's characters son Simon. Song (that is her character's name) name checks the film "The Red Balloon", and you see the large balloon floating around the city at various times. The film gives you a great feel for Paris, you're right there in the middle of it. However, not much is going on. That in and of itself is not horrible, its just that the characters are not tremendously interesting. You don't come away from this film loving any character. Its just a slice of real life. Not bad, a little better than average, but I wanted more.
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Excellent acting, perfect art direction enchanted atmosphere
ishay194817 October 2008
There are 4 different reasons for making me enjoy the movie. First is the wonderful way most of the actors play their roles. Juliet excels in the way she perform the liberal free women, sensitive and caring mother. Also other player, including Juliet son, made me feel very convinced and comfort with their roles.

An extra ordinary job made the art director. The interior design of the flat, where most of the scenes took place, gave me an exact feeling of an old European flat inhabited with very vivid characters. I could almost sense the smells of the different spots in the apartment like the small dining room (the table), the kitchen and the living room.

Walking through the street of Paris gave me the feeling of a day off out of the office without any specific plans or duties. For me it's the best way for relaxation and that how I felt watching the movie.

Last but not least, happiness can be found in small apparently non important issues. There is plenty of that type of items spread around the scene like fixing the piano, information regarding the child progress at school.
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Death to the Dullards!
mutanto20 May 2008
Let's start with the premise that movies are entertainment, which by most accounts means amusing, diverting, enjoyable. By this standard Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge fails miserably. It lacks plot, tension, engaging characters, pacing and even pretty visuals to divert the viewer from the lack of story or anything else one would expect to find in a movie.

I have racked my brain to try to figure out if there was some other narrative, perhaps cloaked in metaphor, that was really at the heart of this movie, but there's nothing there. The puppet show in which Juliet Binoche's character works doesn't seem to be a commentary on anything in her or her son's life. Even the red balloon which might have played the same purpose as in the original Ballon Rouge (an imaginary friend, an escape from reality) provides no such purpose in this film. If the intention of director, Hsiao-hsien Hou, was to show mediocre lives unfolding in the dullness of real time, he has succeeded. But if he intended to entertain his viewers, he has failed on all fronts.

It's astounding that such a lifeless movie got written, funded, produced and distributed. I can't imagine this film will do any box office, and it deserves none, which is a fitting death to a dull film. Save your money and skip the DVD.
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A plain story
valadas8 April 2014
A plain story very well told, shown, staged and acted. A very busy mother of a beautiful and talented little boy about 5 years old and a Taiwanese nurse, clever and tender-hearted (who is also a cinema student), living together daily in Paris a life full of its normal joys, daily tasks, little dramas and annoyances with much sensitivity and intelligence in a very natural, real and true atmosphere. And the red balloon? The red balloon is a symbol of freedom and poetry in that atmosphere. It appears and disappears in the air and the sky, floating always above the roofs and skimming windows and skylights now and then as something fanciful. A goody-goody movie in which stands out above all the exceptional acting of Juliette Binoche as the mother in one of the best roles I have seen of her. Remarkable is also the acting of Hippolyte Girardot as the little child.
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Good but it didn't strike me as great
dbborroughs27 April 2008
Feature length homage/companion to the classic short film The Red Balloon concerns a single mother, her son and the new nanny. The tale follows their lives and the red balloon that periodically makes an appearance in it.

Forgive me for being brief and lacking details but this movie didn't click with me. Yes its beautiful, yes its well acted and containing some wonderful bits of dialog and yes the Balloon is magical, bu the film didn't click with me. Just over a half hour in as the son is having a piano lesson I began to drift away mentally. a little while later when the cats and the dig attacked me and insisted I feed them I did do while I let the film play on (its on IFC in Theaters). It may click for you, but it didn't so so for me.

If you're interested give it a shot.
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Dreadful. Awful. Dull.
swg-819 October 2007
I had really high hopes for this film which was shown as the opener to the 2007 Hawaii Film Festival but it ended up being the first film festival film I've walked out of. Daniel Dae Kim was in the audience, and he give it less than twenty minutes, Neal Israel who directed the HIFF trailer give it 35 mins and I give it 55mins. When I left at least 60 people had walked out.

It's pretentious and dull. The floating balloon at the start was either a poor homage or just the most irritating opening to any film I've seen. There is no real plot to speak of, there is no real point to the movie and the other reviews I've read seem more a case of "The Emperor's New Clothes". This may be auteur film making but it doesn't mean it's good film making.

Very very poor. Avoid.
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One of the Greatest Failures in the History of Cinema
The-Shadow6 March 2009
Warning: Spoilers
There are two types of movie goers: those who can enjoy lyrical, poetic and/or artistic films and those who cannot. If you're part of the first group, more power to you; you'll love this movie. However, if you're like me, this movie represents everything that is wrong with so-called "art films." My hatred for this movie comes from the belief that movies are, or ought to be, entertainment. They should be visual novels, not moving paintings. That is why I cannot stand most art films. They try to be art, while entirely missing the point of cinema. Don't get me wrong; films can be art, but not in the same way a painting or a sculpture is art. Movies are art the way novels are art.

Time to move on to this movie in particular.

Plot: There is none. I also understand that there was not even a script for this film. I don't know if it's true or not, but it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.

Le Voyage du Balloon Rouge is more of a premise, that premise being everyone has a story to tell. While this is probably true, the makers could have easily come up with an even mildly interesting story to give the characters.

In it's own way, this film is as every bit as shallow as the average summer popcorn flick. Summer popcorn flicks fill the screen with explosions and action scenes in the hope that no one will notice there's no story. This film uses the same tactic, replacing explosions for bright, colorful settings.

Characters: Good movie characters are interesting and relatable. They don't even have to be likable. In fact, some of the best characters aren't truly likable.

The characters of Voyage are not interesting, but oddly relatable, in an a way I'm sure the actors never intended. We've all gone through times in our life where we we feel nothing is happening in our lives. I'm sure none of us would care to watch movies about those experiences, either.

Cinematography: I try to give credit where credit's due. This is a beautiful film to look at and listen to. It is truly a lovely moving painting with a build in musical score.

Overall: My initial reaction to this movie was a one star-rating. However, now I've taken a step back, I give this film three stars.
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A quiet, intense film
Red-12530 June 2008
"Le Voyage du ballon rouge" (2007) was shown in the United States with the title"Flight of the Red Balloon." The film was co-written and directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou.

Juliette Binoche stars as Suzanne, who is described as a puppeteer, but who actually directs theatrical works that feature puppets. (Suzanne also provides the voices of the puppets.) Suzanne's life is hectic. Besides the theater she has to contend with an absent (for two years) boyfriend, her daughter from a previous marriage, subletting tenants who don't pay their rent, and the care of her school-age son Simon. Suzanne hires a young Asian film student- -Fang Song--to watch the boy. Song brings an air of tranquility into Suzanne's and Simon's life, and into the movie.

Meanwhile, in homage to the classic film, "The Red Balloon," a red balloon hovers near Song and Simon as they travel around Paris. In fact, Song decides to make a film-within-a-film, featuring Simon and, of course, a red balloon.

Director Hsiao-hsien Hou is fascinated by mirrors and glass. Many of the scenes are filmed as reflections, or we see the balloon through glass that is also partially reflecting a room or a gallery. Nothing is clear-cut or simple--images and the people they portray are complicated and opaque.

Juliette Binoche is one of the most beautiful actors on the screen today. However, in this film, her hair is dyed blonde, and it doesn't enhance her appearance. Her clothes appear to represent whatever she could find quickly in her cluttered apartment, and she's not elegant. No director could make Ms. Binoche unattractive, but in this movie the emphasis is upon her life, not her appearance. Ms. Binoche and Fang Song make a wonderful pair, and the people that enter their lives--piano tuners, furniture movers, piano teachers, puppet masters--are effortlessly drawn into their orbit.

This is a wonderful movie if you don't mind a slow, unhurried pace, a lack of traditional plot, and no explosive climax or last-minute denouement. We join Ms. Binoche's troubled life, and Fang Song's quiet life, and we get to walk through Paris alongside them.
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