June 26, 2008

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The Flight of the Red Balloon (NR)
We float through the life of a young Parisian boy, his mother and his Chinese babysitter in the dreamy The Flight of the Red Balloon.

We meet Simon (Simon Iteanu) as he sees a red balloon (yes, like the movie) and tries to get it to come to him. It doesnít but it, and we in the audience, lazily float around Paris, alighting on the boy and his family several times. We meet his mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) and Song (Song Fang), the Chinese film student who is his new nanny. She also has a fascination with red balloons and the scenes she shoots of Simon and balloons (real and painted on the side of a building) seem to fold back into the movie, like weíre looking at a painting of that same painting inside of which is the painting again. By hovering in Simonís life, we learn most about the emotional life of his mother, who, it seems, is very anxious about the status of a missing boyfriend/husband-guy, who is in Montreal, and her older daughter, who is in Brussels. She has quite possibly lost them already but is now belatedly wishing to pull them back to her, just as she is belatedly trying to kick out a tenant who hasnít paid rent in a year. The film is a quiet portrait of these interior struggles via very little on the exterior, only the occasional outburst or the slightly frazzled appearance. To watch this movie is to get a visual catalogue of the kind of intimate details usually saved for a novel, where mundane things take on significance and fill in the colors of a personís life.

You know, probably.

Iím probably supposed to say other laudatory things about the filmís stillness, its brilliant use of afternoon-in-the-city peacefulness. Iím probably not supposed to say that I fell asleep the first time I attempted to watch the movie (thanks to the whole IFC OnDemand thing, I was viewing it from my way-too-comfortable couch) and that the second time I had to rewind because I got caught up in thinking about some mundanity of my own and realized I hadnít been paying attention for a good five minutes or so (turns out, I didnít really miss much). I donít know if I could have muscled all the way through this movie, paying strict attention, in the dark of the movie theater, when those chairs are so easy to lean back in.

And, not only am I not intellectual or alert enough to fawn over this movie, I must admit I havenít seen The Red Balloon†in its entirety either. Now Iíll never get invited to the cool kidsí table for lunch at Film Critic High School. I hear that the 1956 classic was only 34 minutes long, though, and apparently stuff actually happened, so maybe I would find itís rumored joy and sense of fun more attention keeping.

Yes, Binoche gives a fine performance as a woman on the edge, and yes, there are some swell visuals of Paris, a very photogenic city. And maybe if I loaded up on caffeine and made myself watch it again Iíd find some deeper meaning. But nearly two hours is an awfully long way to go for a film thatís all character study and no forward action. C+

Not rated. Directed by Hou Hsaio-hsien and written by Hsiao-hsien and Francois Margolin, The Flight of the Red Balloon (called Le voyage du ballon rouge in French) is in French with English subtitles, is an hour and 53 minutes long and is distributed by First Take IFC films. It is scheduled to play at area theaters in upcoming weeks and is available on Comcast OnDemand.