Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge) (2007)

What is the voyage of the red balloon? I can’t say I know from watching Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Drama, Family

Director: Hou Hsiao-Hsien

Actors: Juliette Binoche, Hippolyte Girardot

Year: 2007

MPAA Rating: NR

Country: France / Taiwan

Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge features several performances that are so good, you might overlook how good they are—because they don’t seem like performances. They don’t feel like performances. The camera lingers on a character, a room full of characters, or simply a red balloon, for unbroken takes lasting up to 10 minutes. There was no script, according to Juliette Binoche in the Q&A (at TIFF), just a 20-page synopsis. The rest is life.

Of course, a movie is not exactly life. Binoche plays Suzanne, a woman living in Paris with her young son, Simon (Simon Iteanu), and a new nanny, Song (Fang Song). Suzanne is a mess, with her wildly mismatched layers of clothing, jangling collection of keys, and a way of filling a room with her frenetic energy. Song is distinctly opposite in how reserved and collected she is, but she is also warm, and cares for Simon very much.

And then there is the red balloon, seen drifting through Paris in the opening scenes, and making several appearances throughout the film. It seems to be wandering, briefly finding interest in a train car or street lamp, before leisurely moving on. (By the end, for some reason—although this might have been my sleep-deprived imagination—the red balloon appeared to be actively stalking young Simon.)

It could be argued that nothing happens in La Voyage du Ballon Rouge: it is not about culture clash between the Suzanne and Song (who is from China), it is not about Suzanne learning to put her child before herself, it is not about working together to overcome a major obstacle. The movie is about life, and it is brilliantly directed by Hsiao-Hsien Hou to feel as organically dull and fascinating as life.

Unfortunately, approaching the two-hour mark, this movie veers closer to dull than fascinating, and I spent the last half hour thinking, This must be the last shot. It’s not? Oh. Why not? I didn’t even think to check my watch until 90 minutes in, because the film was so mesmerizing and beautiful—but I spent the last 30 minutes checking every 30 seconds.

What is the voyage of the red balloon? I can’t say I know from watching Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge. I’m sure I’m supposed to understand it on a symbolic or metaphorical level, but maybe I’m just not smart enough to see what Juliette Binoche has in common with a red balloon—except that they both give fantastic performances in this movie.


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