November 22, 2009

My very first art film, 'The Red Balloon'

I must begin by clarifying that my post title is not intended to infer any involvement on my part with the creation of this wonderful film. That credit goes to the Academy Award winning writer/director of 'The Red Balloon', Albert Lamorisse. Besides, I wasn't even around when it came out in 1956! But 21 years later, sitting in a darkened 2nd-grade classroom, I had my first experience viewing this memorable piece of foreign cinema and it made a real impression on me.

Even at the tender age of 7, I realized on some level that this film was special. Or, at least, it was special to me. It really struck a chord, deep within...

I received the newest, restored and digitally transferred edition of the film on DVD as a gift a while ago, but hadn't actually sat down to watch it until yesterday. Boy, I was so glad I finally did because it was even better than I had remembered it! I mean, I was grinning ear-to-ear from the very start. It certainly took me to my "happy place".

I found it interesting that the film was brighter and more colorful than I remembered. I guess that could be directly due to the restoration and high-definition transfer, but all these years I had thought of it as having much darker tones in both mood and color. Except for that BIG red balloon, of course! In fact, Tommy told me I'd have to watch the DVD without him because he hated watching the film back in elementary school. "It was too depressing", he said. And I was like, "Are you freakin' kidding me?! You're completely missing the entire point of the film, dude!" Well, I might be paraphrasing a bit, but that was the gist of our differing opinions on the matter.

I do feel passionate about this little french film. And I think that anyone who watches it can see the amount of passion that Albert Lamorisse must have felt for the project, as it plays like a cinematic love letter to the city of Paris. The shooting location couldn't have been better, either. It was in the Menilmontant section of Paris, a labyrinth of narrow alleys, cobblestones and steep streets. Since this was my first impression of Paris, I know that if I ever do travel there I will want and expect to see all of the key scenic backgrounds featured or I won't be satisfied... NOTE TO SELF: Prepare for disappointment.

For those of you who may not be familiar with the simple story of this precious gem, here's the brief synopsis right off of the DVD:

"Pascal, a young Parisian boy, retrieves a balloon tied to a lamppost, only to discover that it seems to have a mind and personality of its own. At times the balloon follows him around like a loyal dog, at others like a teasing best friend. The two form an almost inseparable bond, one that only an uncaring world would dare untether."

I couldn't help giggling as I typed that description because I kept hearing Mr. Deep-Voiced-Movie-Trailer-Announcer-Guy saying it! Then I had to actually try doing the voice! Good thing I'm alone, right now... By the way, does anyone know what that guy's name is? Oh, wait. I think I heard somewhere that he died. Oops, here I am making fun of him. Do you think that whoever gave the eulogy at his memorial service delivered it with a similar deep voice, like it was also a movie trailer? That would've actually been pretty damn cool, huh? Some might think it was in poor taste, but not really, if you think about it. Of course, it would sort of depend on whether the guy had a sense of humor...

Sorry, about that! It's getting late, and the A.D.D. is kicking into high gear. Where was I before all of that? Oh, yes. I was going to share a gallery of production stills.

So here's the gallery...

On his way to school, Pascal (played
by 5 1/2 y.o. Pascal Lamorisse, the
director's son) discovers something...

The temptation is just too great. Aaaand since no
one's around to stop him, he shimmies on up the
lamppost to take down that shiny, red floaty-thing.

Pascal and his new "friend", running late for school!

Street corner shenanigans...

"Now, don't go anywhere! I'll be right back."

While passing a boulangerie (bakery) shop window,
Pascal sees something he'd like to have. So he leaves
his balloon outside the shop for only a moment...
Just long enough for some bratty kid to sneak up
and take off with it!

I don't have a picture, but Pascal manages to get his
balloon back. Here, he's desperately running down a
narrow alley to escape the gang of mean bullies that
took it from him! Oh, what now? A fat, old woman
carrying groceries?! Come on, give the kid a break!

Sadly, they do catch up to Pascal. They completely
outnumber him (the gang of bullies is much larger
than pictured), too, which is totally unfair!
But, then... so is life.

After much bullying ensues, a real nasty boy pulls
out a slingshot! Then, as you can clearly see, he turns
'The Red Balloon' into... the dead balloon.

Do not despair! Yes, Pascal just lost his best
"friend", but somehow, magically, all of the
other balloons in Paris start floating right to
him! So many, they're overwhelming. Then...

It's up, up and away!

If you've never seen this award-winning film, you should check it out. Even if you have, but it's been many years since (like about 30, in my case), I highly recommend watching it again! Especially this latest restored, high-def print on DVD. I'm gonna try talking Tommy into watching it with me because I really don't think it's as depressing as he remembers it being, but that might be fruitless effort on my part. He'll probably just shoot me down like that poor balloon...

~All photos via Google Images~


  1. Hey Anthony - Can't believe you wrote about this film today. I had recently found a lovely copy of the book (that has pictures from the movie) in a thrift store, and I was THRILLED. My sister was with me, and she said- "Oh, I have that movie. I think it was Mother's." So, the very next time I was at her house, she got it out for me, and I brought it home. It is right now sitting among my "I need-to-watch-these" movies - the ones I seem to never get around to. You have made me think I need to get round to it soon. Because, like I told Lori, I am not sure that I have ever seen it all the way through! And I want to even more now because of your post.

  2. I haven't thought about this film in years. I too fell in love with the charm and magic or it. I'm going to have to go and re-watch this pronto.


  3. How can I refuse to watch it with you NOW, after this excellent post? I still think I'll be sad about the bullies and the DEAD BALLOON (I had forgotten the balloon DIES), but I promise I will watch it with you, my dear husband. The Red Balloon really stays dead??? As a child that would have devastated me utterly. Like the death of Bambi's mother. But I'll still watch it with you. ;)

  4. I'll have to check it out because you say so but I have to agree with Tommy - the bullies and balloon death would upset me too. At least it has an UPLIFTING ending! Get it, get it..?
    Oh and by the way, best prepare for your Parisian disappointment, Anthony. It's actually a recognised syndrome - Paris Syndrome. Japanese people are particularly susceptible to it. Look it up :)

  5. I remember that film,so well. It takes me right back to Public School #45, sitting on the floor in the library.

    I asked my boys if they watched it yet & they had no idea what I was talking about. It will be interesting to see how children's attentions spans have evolved in 30 yrs, I'm not quite sure my kids could sit through it :( But, I'm going to make them anyway!

    Thanks for the memories and Happy Thanksgiving!I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

  6. Heidi ))) I could have sworn that I had that same photo book around here somewhere, but I can't seem to find it... Hope you can watch the film in its entirety, soon. It's only about a half-hour long, so it's not a major time commitment. I think you'll be glad you watched it again. :)

    Townhouselady ))) Yes, go find it. Watch it. Report back. I'll be curious to know if it still affects you the same as it did when you were a child? If you don't want to buy or rent it, I think you can watch it on YouTube...

    Tommy ))) Alright, you've now promised me in front of others, and in writing, that you WILL watch 'The Red Balloon' with me. You DO realize that if you don't keep your word, that will be admissible evidence in court, right? ;)

    MoonDoggie ))) Wow, I had never heard of Paris Syndrome. I did look it up and it's very bizarre! You're probably right, though. I think that it's quite likely I would suffer from this condition.

    Leah ))) Yeah, I don't know about "kids these days... with their MTV and video games". Unfortunately, I seriously don't think that a quiet, arty foreign film like this could really hold the attention spans of most school children today. It doesn't have any high-speed car chases or huge explosions, no guns or sword fights. It's a shame how most children have become so easily bored and jaded with things that aren't SUPER EXCITING. They're waaay too young for that! :(

  7. Anthony I love this post and your great sense of humor. Let's hope that all the balloons in Paris gather together for us all this coming New Year.
    I completely forgot about this magnificent film & cannot wait to watch it again after all these years. I love how you gave 1956 an exclamation point - that's the year I was born & this month..ha! It truly was a blankity..blank long time ago. Thanks for the very nice comment on my blog. You do have great bloggers etiquette, life just gets in the way of all our fun. Happy December to you & thanks for following me. x

  8. Hey, Dumbwit!
    (That seems like an insult everytime!)

    I'm glad to see that you didn't just "write" me off, since I had totally dropped the ball and flaked out for a while... It's so nice when a fellow blogger GETS how that sort of thing can happen sometimes, and that it's nothing personal toward them. Like you said, "life just gets in the way". Thanks for understanding!

    If I read your comment correctly, birthday wishes are in order sometime this month. So... Happy Birthday! I hope that it's a fantastic one for you! And if we don't communicate again between now and January, I wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year! :)

  9. Ooh, this is a staple from my childhood, too. It was shown a LOT in elementary school. Like Tommy, I forgot about the red balloon's demise. I always loved the film's foreign-ness and the lonely feel of it. Of course, at school the scene everyone loved is when the boy has a string of snot swinging from his nose when he's crying. Great job on this, A, I loved reading about this old friend of mine.

  10. What an excellent way to put it, Julie!
    Watching it again, after lo these many years, really did seem like I was reunited ("and it feels so gooood...") with a dear old friend.

    I must admit, I'm a bit perplexed by your mention of the boy's string of cry-snot swinging from his nose? I don't recall that at all. And I just watched it about a week ago. How odd. Guess I'll just have to look for that when Tommy watches it with me... ;)

    Did you like my Peaches & Herb lyric quote?

  11. So in French class we watch this movie. So everyone is all into it. We are watching people are laughing, looking like what? People ask A Hundred questions. Lol. So this weird ballon is everywhere with him it was funny, cool,well thought out,the person who edited the movie was cool. Then Madame, Shaniderz My class teacher Says it's 2:30 We all are like NOOOOOOO DON'T TURN IT OFF!!!!


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