Hou Hsiao-hsien’ Flight of the Red Balloon starts with a kid named Simon trying to coax a red balloon to come to him. The balloon’s up there on a tree, away from his reach. After failing in his attempt, the kid boards a train back his place. Then curiously enough the balloon starts following him, which it keeps on doing the entire length of the movie. Simon, the kid, lives in a bohemian home with his blond, gusty mom Suzzane, who is a voice over actor at a Puppetry Troupe. As the movie begins Simone meets Song, his new Babysitter, who is a foreign student in a Film school and is currently making a movie on red balloons.
The movie meanders through the day to day life of these characters without probe, almost free flowingly as does the balloon. The tangential brisk distractions of life that seem to fill the space keep the movie as a humming song that anytime may turn into a magnanimous sonata. There are moments of sadness and loss, as subject of Simone’s Dad or irritating Tenant comes up but they all are kept at bay, somehow giving them a tone of sudden uprising in a sonata. These moments go quite nimbly just as they come.
Song is quite and unassuming, like a spectator of this medley of life. In one scene she points out to Juliet that the green man in her movies carrying the balloon all the time is there in green so that he could be easily filtered out later. It almost as a metaphor suggests that the seemingly free flowing life that this movie looks has its underpinnings in something else, the elusiveness of which is what is giving this all that quality. The role of Juliette Binoche as Suzanne comes as a breath of fresh air, as she walks in and out of the frame as a butterfly may tease a child following her. Her emotional upturns, the frizzy makeup, the virtuoso dazzling performances and the voice over artist just make a delight to watch.
In one of the interesting scene Juliet is appreciating Song’s film Origin and then starts narrating how it reminded her of her childhood, the old home, parents and other things. Curiously as there had been no hint or knowledge of it in the movie, the scene becomes immensely interesting as, as a viewer you try to get an idea what the movie was actually about. In another scene towards the end Simone is in his class which is on a trip to a exhibition where the teacher is asking students what they see in the painting, if it’s dark or light painting. All children come up with different answers thinking of all possible explanation. At the same time Simone is shown elusive to all that discussion busy watching the balloon which as usual shows up in the ceiling glass pane of the center, telling the viewers that no matter what we may interpret of the movie the lyrical quality, the profused hum, the brisk lightness that’s there is not going to vanish.
The movie is actually a tribute to 1956 children classic short film by Albert Lamorisse, The Red Balloon. The director makes use of glasses and shadows extensively. Things move in reflections. There’s one scene where you gaze outside a moving train onto vast open lands, which fuses with a sunset which is partially reflected in the window pane. This mirroring effect even goes further as we see the balloon standing along with a painted image of another red balloon. The music, the everyday hum of things around, the tinkering of a piano repairman all add to the free flowing austere quality of life.