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,The Red Balloon

The Red Balloon

A child (Pascal Lamorisse) on his way to his school finds a candy apple-red balloon and begins a whimsical, enchanted journey through Paris clutching his newfound treasure. He asks an elderly man outside his school to take care of the balloon before ducking into his classroom. As The Red Balloon (1956) progresses, grown-ups treat the child and his balloon with a mixture of concern and disdain. His grandmother tosses the balloon out of their apartment window in annoyance, but a succession of strangers help shield the balloon from rainfall under their umbrellas. In this charming parable the balloon becomes symbolic of the similarly buoyant and easily crushed dreams of children, either nurtured and protected, or scorned and mistreated by the world around them. Over time, the balloon transforms from an inanimate object into a sentient, living thing. It begins to follow the child to school, taunts and teases an officious teacher who tries to catch it, and a group of raucous schoolboys who want to puncture it. Eventually the gang of older boys destroys the balloon, but in the redemptive conclusion hundreds of balloons from all over Paris convene to carry the boy into the heavens.

Told without dialogue by former photographer-turned-director Albert Lamorisse, The Red Balloon was made when he was just 34. It has since become a childhood classic, a landmark celebration of a child's imagination starring the director's own six-year-old son. The film joins another Lamorisse films White Mane (1952), about a little boy who saves a wild horse from trappers, in centering on the fantasy world of children. The Red Balloon won the Golden Palm at Cannes, the New York Film Critics Circle's Best Foreign Film award and an Oscar® for Best Original Screenplay, beating out Fellini's La Strada and Ealing Studios The Lady Killers for that honor. Though some critics quibbled over the film's ending or its "bourgeois belief in achieving happiness through quantity," according to Adam Garbicz and Jacek Klinowski's Cinema, the Magic Vehicle, the critical consensus seemed largely positive. The New York Times called it "utterly charming" and suggested of the apropos Paris setting, "where else would people be so tolerant and casual towards the sight of a little boy being followed to school by a red balloon?" Sight and Sound called it "an unusually pleasing film. The colour is among the best the French cinema has produced; and the awakening of Paris in a blueish haze, the scarlet blob of the balloon caressing the crumbling facades of La Butte, are unforgettable images."

Director Lamorisse (who is also known for inventing the board game Risk) eventually turned to directing features and documentary shorts in the early sixties. He sadly died in a 1970 helicopter crash while shooting a documentary in Iran. That film, a helicopter tour of Iran, The Lovers' Wind (1978) was eventually assembled from the director's notes. It went on to receive an Oscar® nomination for best feature documentary. Made available in an inexpensive 16mm version, The Red Balloon was so popular in schools, it reportedly became the largest selling non-theatrical print in American film history. Hardly an actor associated with whimsy, Ronald Reagan introduced the film on the CBS anthology G.E. Theater when it made its American TV debut.

Director: Albert Lamorisse
Producer: Albert Lamorisse
Screenplay: Albert Lamorisse
Cinematography: Edmond Sechan
Production Design: Michel Pezin
Music: Maurice LeRoux
Cast: Pascal Lamorisse (Boy), Sabine Lamorisse (Girl), Michel Pezin (Teacher).

by Felicia Feaster



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