The Red Balloon (Criterion/Janus, 1956) D: Albert Lamorisse, w/ Pascal Lamorisse. Rating: NNNNN; DVD package: NN
Nothing kills charm faster than some clown saying, “This is charming.” So I won’t.
I’ll say instead that The Red Balloon is a remarkable achievement in pure cinema, a story told almost exclusively through pictures. There are barely half a dozen lines in its 34 minutes, most of them so unimportant that the subtitles only bother to translate two. The music is appropriate but doesn’t hammer your emotions, and it’s not so listenable that the images recede to mere accompaniment.
A small boy finds a red balloon that seems to have a mind of its own. They wander around Paris, play and get into some mild trouble. Eventually, they’re pursued by the local boys, which leads to one expected climax and one surprise.
According to the brief, informative essay by critic Michael Koresky, the boy is played by the director’s five-and-a-half-year-old son. The kid doesn’t act. He isn’t cute. The balloon is faceless, yet it has character and moves exactly as though it had volition – low-tech special effects at their finest.
Director Albert Lamorisse had been a documentarian. He captures the streets of his Paris neighbourhood in casually elegant compositions that both ground the story and enhance its effectiveness. Even when the story is familiar, the visuals make it highly rewatchable.
Koresky’s essay is the disc’s only extra. I got this from a Criterion list and the packaging looks like theirs, but Janus is the only name on the disc. The essay is worth having, but more about Lamorisse would have been welcome.
EXTRAS Essay. Full-frame. French audio. English subtitles.