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The Red Balloon [Le Ballon Rouge] (1956)


There are so many reasons to hate France and so many of us who do, that it may well be futile to try and nail down one primary reason for our collective loathing.  Nonetheless, for those of us who were born in the 60s, there's one factor, above all others, that forged our contempt : The Red Balloon.  We are the lost generation that had to sit through this godawful flick in some stinking grade school auditorium every time that it rained and we weren't allowed out on the playground for recess.

I don't recall, but I suppose the first time we saw it we may have even thought it was mildly cute.  It's fairly harmless--a little kid is followed all around some miserable, bombed out, French city by a vibrantly colored red balloon that he finds tied to a lamppost.  It eludes the grasp of others, but bobs and weaves all over the place so that the boy can tow it around.  After disrupting school and church it is finally hunted down by a gang of nearly feral French schoolchildren who stone it to death.  There follows the obligatory resurrection (the balloon having previously been immaculately conceived and crucified) as the boy is transported heavenwards by a host of balloons.  Hard to believe then how grating these 34 minutes of celluloid become by the end of the first viewing, never mind on the umpteenth.  We used to sit in the dark and pray that just this one time someone would burst the balloon in the first few minutes and save us from misery.  To no avail...

As it happens, I grew up in the inner city (the polite, modern word for ghetto) : East Orange, New Jersey.  So in addition to this film, we were shown these horrifyingly graphic drug withdrawal movies supplied by the Essex County Sheriff's office and safety films made by the Erie Lackawanna Railway (we had tracks running in back of the school), that were designed to scare the bejeezus out of us as they depicted kids' body parts being picked up with sticks and spoons and shoved in garbage bags.  Let's put it this way, thanks to this assortment of films, I don't play in switching yards, I've never taken heroin, and the only time I ever want to see France is through the range finder onboard the Enola Gay.

GRADE : H (as in, send in the Huns)

(Reviewed:01-Oct-01)

Grade: (F)

Websites:

See also:


    -FILMOGRAPHY : Albert Lamorisse (Imdb.com)
    -ETEXT : The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse (Eric Lee)
    -INFO : Ballon rouge, Le (1956) (imdb.com)
    -ESSAY : Foreign Films for Kids : Dispelling the notion that foreign films are strange, arty and incomprehensible is the best reason to introduce them to your children. (CHARLES TAYLOR, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Red Balloon is not Just a Childís Film (Large Sock)
    -EXCERPT : from Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik
    -REVIEW : of The Red Balloon (Doug Pratt DVD/Laser Reviews)
    -AWARD : Oscar Winner 1956 : Best Original Screenplay

Comments:

Quite. The French should have suffered far more.

- oj

- Aug-21-2008, 07:08

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It is terribly sad that the reviewer's childhood prevented him from better appreciating the innocence and wonder within this allegorical film. The French city it takes place in is post WWII Paris; and the film itself is a reflection, at one level, of the brutality of the war, which Paris and the French endured first hand. The child followed by the balloon can be seen to symbolize the potential lying within all of humanity-- to act with love, compassion, and service to all the world; the balloon can symbolize all that is good, and that beckons us to have the faith and courage to live a pure and loving life. The world frowns upon the loving and unselfish qualities represented in the balloon, ultimately brutalizing and killing it, as seen by its final deflation. However, the boy, as an ideal life for all of us, is not affected by the world, but harkens to the call of the balloon, rising to the best within him to assist and defend it in the face of overwhelming odds (as are all of us tested within the world). The boy is rewarded for his love and selflessness, by being taken up to heaven by hundreds of balloons who converge upon him at the moment of his greatest sadness-- the battering and death of all that is pure and good as symbolized by the balloon. The film helps put us in touch with of our own childhood innocence and purity, which is often driven from us by the tests and temptations of the world. The underlying religio-spiritual theme urges us not to lose heart, but to hold fast to what is good, and true, and beautiful within the world and ourselves, for which our rewards lie not in this world, but the next.

- a friend

- Aug-21-2008, 03:37

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