THE FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (Hou Hsiao-hsien). 113 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (May 16). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NNNN
In this delightful homage to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 Oscar-winning classic The Red Balloon, the great Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien brings his trademark naturalism, uncanny camera sense and a rich and layered visual palette to a particular domestic slice of Gallic life.
Juliette Binoche, blowsy and blond, plays an emotionally overburdened actor/mother with a stressed-out warmth that’s both comic and endearing. Meanwhile, her seven-year?old son (Simon Iteanu) embodies the confidence and innocence of childhood so naturally, it’s as if we’re in the throes of a domestic documentary.
Hou, working outside Taiwan for the second time, plays his balloon card inventively. The calming presence of a red balloon seems to follow the boy and his Taiwanese nanny (Song Fang) as they make their way through Paris.
As Hou tracks the two, he foregrounds ambient sounds and underlines the city’s presence so that watching them walk unhurriedly down a street feels transporting. Sometimes the balloon’s shadow is visible, sometimes its reflection. On an outing to the Musée d’Orsay, the boy’s class discusses a painting that includes a red balloon as the titular balloon hovers just above the skylight.
If you need an antidote to Speed Racer, this is it.