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Moveable monument to the transience of childhood

Flight of the Red Balloon: 113 minutes. Rated: PG. Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou. Starring: Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu, Fang Song

Flight of the Red BalloonIn Albert Lamorisse's 1956 film La Ballon Rouge, a young boy is befriended by a red balloon which, seemingly on its own volition, follows him around the streets of Paris.

The balloon in Taiwanese filmmaker Hsiao-hsien Hou's 2008 Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (Flight of the Red Balloon) — part remake of, and part homage to Lamirosse's classic — plays a bittersweet symbolic role, drifting in and out of the spotlight — a moveable monument to both the magical freedom and the transience of childhood.

Parisian Suzanna (Binoche) is a charming and deeply creative single mother, flustered by the many demands on her time and emotion — providing voice performances for puppet theatre, teaching classes, and playing landlord to a recalcitrant tenant.

It leaves her little time to spend with her adored and adorable son, Simon (Iteanu). And so she enlists the services of Song, a Taiwanese film student with a soft spot for Lamirosse's La Ballon Rouge. Song discovers in the effortlessly charismatic Simon both captivating subject and passive muse for her own filmmaking.

This is a highly meditative film. Long passages contain little dialogue, and it possesses only enough plot to propel it forward at a leisurely pace. It will leave some viewers cold, especially given that it doesn't ultimately amount to much more than a meditation.

But the magic of this film is in its restrained and delicate approach to exposition. There is very little telling, rather details are revealed gradually, like an undeveloped photograph blooming in a darkroom.

This is epitomised by cinematographer Pin Bing Lee's camerawork. During some scenes within Suzanna and Simon's home, minutes will pass while the camera remains completely stationary, providing a keyhole view of one part of the house.

Once it has soaked up the detail, the camera might suddenly come alive, tracking a character as they trek to a different part of the cluttered apartment. Suddenly new details emerge of the world the characters inhabit, and we understand who they are a little better.

This is reflected in Hsiao-hsien's revelation of his characters. He lets his audience spend time getting to know these people, and metes out the facts of their lives and cares as we witness them in different locations, and see the ways they interact with different people.

Amid assorted sympathetic and understated performances Iteanu is a wonder. One imagines he must have spend a good deal of time in front of the filmmakers' lens to the point where he forgot its existence.

His performance is utterly naturalistic and unselfconscious, so that his carefree childishness shines in contrast to the convolutions of time and emotion that restrain the lives of the adults around him.

It's to that disparity, between the simplicity of childhood and the relative complexity of adulthood, that The Flight of the Red Balloon stands in most vivid tribute.

Watch The Flight of the Red Balloon trailer at Madman

Tim Kroenert Tim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and ASif. He is a contributor to the inaugural edition of the journal Studies in Australian Weird Fiction. Email Tim

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Flight of the Red Balloon, Hsiao-hsien Hou, Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu, Fang Song



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