Flight of the Red Balloon ***
Directed by Hsiao-hsien Hou
Written by Hsiao-hsien Hou and Francois Margolin
Juliette Binoche as Suzanne
Hippolyte Girardot as Marc
Simon Iteanu as Simon
Fang Song as Song
113 Minutes(Not Rated)
There are moments in Hsiao-hsien Hou's fascinating and rather absorbing new film "Flight of the Red Balloon" where I was struck by the perfection in which they were directed, acted, and choreographed. And I felt the same way about his last movie "Three Times," even though parts of that movie did not sit well with me. But he moves the camera with such grace, and directs scenes with such a masterful sense of the craft. And thats certainly needed, because aspects of "Flight of the Red Balloon" seem to be dreamlike, almost fantasy, and to highlight this theme, Hou usually works with one takes here, often starting a scene and then moving the camera around the room in the middle of all the action-and its done so well that during long segments, I found myself wondering if this was all done with no edit. It is all done so natural and real that you don't even pay attention to the technical aspects-you are so caught up in these characters lives, and they are all beautifully and realistically acted, without Hou calling attention to himself behind the camera. It's one of the most perfect directions that I have seen in a long time. However, I think what lost me about the movie could have been the screenplay-maybe this movie was a little underwritten. At times I felt I admired this movie more than actually enjoyed it-but it certainly is an experience that is unlike any other-and it's funny because that sums up the feelings that I had about "Three Times," which I gave a two and a half rating-or "just missed the mark."
The goddess Juliette Binoche stars as Suzanne, a rather frazzled mother who has a lot on her plate. When she isn't working a gig as the voice of puppets in a puppet show, she is busy worrying about her divorce to her husband, who has moved away. She leaves her young son Simon in the care of a babysitter-the film major and director of the future Song. We watch as Song and Simon go about their days-she intends on shooting a short film about red balloons, in which he seems to be a small part of. And all around Simon and Song we see bursts of real life. Suzanne comes in after work, and she does love Simon very much, and she is very kind to Song, but her own real life comes shooting through from time to time-her problem with her husband, her problem with an upstairs neighbor, her problem with her daughter. And all the while we see a mysterious red balloon that seems to be flying around wherever Simon goes.
Now it wasn't until the very last scene where I decided the meaning behind this film, and more importantly, the symbolism of the red balloon. I find that the red balloon is a symbol for a rather carefree and more peaceful aspect of life. We watch scenes where the balloon is flying through the sky, unaffected by its surroundings, just being. And these shots of the balloon against a perfect blue sky are breathtaking, and beautiful to watch. It represents a side of life that is there-Simon and Song see it-but often hard to come by-and in Suzanne this is certainly apparent. We watch her life become a muddled mess, and we also watch as Simon goes through her life, only with a different approach and a different outlook. Is it because he is looking for red balloons? They are all around in the movie-real and not real-the trick is to see them. I've said before that Hou directs beautifully, and the one take tracking shots-especially the ones around Simon and Suzanne's house-are perfectly choreographed. An extended scene where a blind piano tuner comes in is perfect-we hear the muddled sounds of a piano being tuned, Suzanne in tears over something that happened, Simon going about his business, and Song working. And we circle the room, listen to the sounds, and just relish in the fact that somebody has made a beautiful and natural movie, done simply with camerawork and actors-actors that are convincingly natural because they are good actors, and not because they were handpicked off the streets and never having been in a movie before.
No matter what problems I had with "Flight of the Red Balloon,"-length being one of them, this movie is too long and some scenes are a bit excessive-there is no doubt that Hou is one of the most talented living directors. This is only my second film by him, but both this and "Three Times" were pictures to be admired and to be pleased that people are still using film to focus on the small beauties of life.