Sunday, October 21, 2007


you English with your boring trousers and your shiny toilet paper, and your ridiculous preconception that Frenchmen are great loversOh dear. There are some films that you feel that you *ought* to like as a self-respecting cineaste and reader of the New York Review of Books. As you find yourself shifting uncomfortably in your seat, looking at your watch for the third time in five minutes and opening another bottle of mineral water you wonder, "What is wrong with me? Am I not a sensitive soul?" Well, maybe I am a barbarian, but I found FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON as boring as Alistair Darling's first Pre-Budget Report, not to mention as lacking in substance and as dependent on nicking the only good idea in it.

Starting with the good idea, this is the visual motif of the film. Writer-director Hou Hsiao Hsien bases his 2 hour French-language film on a 1950s Oscar winning short-film called THE RED BALLOON by Albert Lamorisse. There's something evocative about a small boy whose only real companion is a large red balloon that follows him through the streets of Paris. Otherwise, the small kid is dragged from pillar to post by his ditzy mother (Juliette Binoche) and new Chinese nanny (Fang Song.) He fantasises about his sister Louise, who now lives in Brussels. He's genuinely like-able but he's tragically just a bit part in his mother's chaotic life.

Apart from this visual conceit we have little else of substance here. Hou Hsiao Hsien cheekily shows us how the floating balloon effect is created by making the Chinese nanny a film student who seeks to emulate the original short. How post-modern! But I think we need a little more than THAT. And as for the chaotic life of the mother, this does provide some comic interludes. Binoche is clearly having a lot of fun in her brash blonde wig, godawful clothes and absurdly OTT puppeteer's voice. But an eccentric character neither adds up to a plot nor to a meta-text. As a result, the movie is simply boring.

FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON/VOYAGE DU BALLON ROUGE played Cannes, Toronto and London 2007. It goes on release in France and Belgium in January 2008.

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