A divorced puppeteer Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), hires Chinese film student Song as a nanny for her seven-year-old son Simon. During walks with Song, a big red balloon appears out of nowhere and follows Simon. In the European debut by a key director of the Korean new wave Hou Hsiao-Hsien, shot with the support of Musee d'Orsay, art—represented by puppet theatre, film, and music, references to French painting and cinema—is dissolved in the everyday and acts as a tuning fork for a story of childhood and a family falling apart.
Hou Hsiao-Hsien's regular collaborator, cinematographer of Wong Kar-wai's In the Mood for Love Pin Bing Lee, has captured a Paris filled with subtle magic and melancholy. Semi-documentary and largely improvised, the film is made of handcrafted shots: no matter how trivial the action—Simon is playing pinball, Song is editing a film, Suzanne is watching children—Lee films it through reflections, transparent or translucent objects; as if a (post)impressionist painter, he creates an "airy" image, cleverly playing with perspective.
Having a magical presence in the film, the red balloon is both real and an illusion—forever unattainable. Purely photogenic, it mesmerizes the viewer as much as the child. Painted on the wall of a Paris building, filmed by Song, reminiscent of the film by Albert Lamorisse and Félix Vallotton's painting The Ball, it has its own life and floats wherever it likes like a guardian angel.
The puppet theatre acts as a connecting link between the European and the Asian cultures. One of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's central images, in Flight of the Red Balloon, the puppeteer is not connected to politics, as in his film of the same name of 1993. Instead, it is a metaphor of the way in which a hectic, chain-smoking, and constantly stressed Suzanne tries to juggle her duties, with more or less success.
The film will be screened in French and Chinese with Russian subtitles.
Flight of the Red Balloon
Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien
France, Taiwan, 2007. 117 min. 18+