Film Review: The Red Balloon (1956)

For most American audiences the short film is a lost art form that was never found to begin with.  Though films festivals around the world as well as the Academy Awards recognize numerous films in this category each year, the general public hasn’t quite caught on.  But aspiring filmmakers of the craft need not worry, for their time is nearing.

With the invention of the Internet came several resources that made short films a more accessible art.  YouTube is one, users are provided with thousands of videos ranging from home-made movies to the pictures of Hollywood, and independent short films are among them.  (I myself have vitalized the site many times, the first of which I watched Vincent, a six-minute animated short which was Tim Burton’s first movie to direct).  iTunes as well, sells the latest and most successful of these pictures, available for a price around two or three dollars.

So while they may not receive the same amount of commercial success or popularity that feature-length movies enjoy, based on my experiences with both, the average short film out does the average Hollywood picture.  A short feature such as The Red Balloon is one of the best examples of this statement (others are La Jettee, Un Chien Andalou, and even Burton’s Vincent).  This one in particular though, is built quite simply on even simpler ground.

It shows a young, Parisian boy who lives in an apartment with his mother, treks through the city to school each day by himself, and stumbles onto a bright, shiny balloon one morning.  The balloon soon becomes a trusty companion to the boy, so much so that it doesn’t float away when the youth loses hold of the orb’s hanging string.  But unlike many family-oriented films made today, director Lamorisse does not make his film overly sympathetic.  None-the-less, it achieves something like movie magic.

There is some sense of energetic fun buried within the core of the movie, which can only be accounted for by the human-like, care-free movements of the balloon.  The ending, the highlight of the whole half-hour, is a joyous and triumphant sight to behold, but I won’t spoil it for you.  Lamorisse wisely uses as little dialogue as possible, giving it a naive tone that matches its protagonist.  The Red Balloon is light-hearted yet emotional, but above all, it is fully enjoyable and magically transports the audience to the gritty streets of Paris.

Rating: 4/5