Directed by Albert Lamorisse
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 34 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 French
MSRP: $ 14.95
Release Date: April 29, 2008
Review Date: April 12, 2008
Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon is a charming, whimsical fantasy, as light as a bubble and just as effervescent. There’s a very slight story and some gorgeous views of Paris in this kind of modern day fairy tale that runs barely half an hour. Completely disarming and magical, it’s a slight delight that should be seen by all fans of world cinema.
Pascal Lamorisse (son of the director) stars as a six year old who, on his way to school, happens upon a red balloon wrapped around a lamppost. Freeing it from its tangle, the balloon becomes his new best friend, following him like a loyal puppy to the tram and then to school and then back home, none of the places where it finds itself welcome. But Pascal perseveres and rescues the balloon from being cast out of the house after which the lad finds that he doesn’t even have to hold the balloon. It follows him wherever he goes and resists efforts of others to take it away from Pascal. Alas, with such devotion comes the jealousy of others who decry a boy and his balloon and who make efforts to intervene.
Albert Lamorisse’s direction is superb staging a series of encounters with the boy, the balloon, and others that are utterly disarming. The streets and crowded alleyways of Paris are vividly captured as well as in any feature film set in this magical city. One special moment where a momentary flirtation with a blue balloon seems possible is particularly delightful. The story really edges into the surreal in an ending that defies description. Suffice to say it’s wildly colorful and equally memorable. Lamorisse won the 1956 Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his story, an honor that’s even more surprising when noting that among the screenplays in competition that year were La Strada and The Ladykillers. The film is so unique and such a lark, however, that its victory in retrospect is reasonably understandable.
Pascal Lamorisse basically plays himself, full of wide-eyed innocence and determination to hold onto his prize, and he never betrays the obvious contraptions that had to exist in order to make the magic on-screen happen. His is a very impressive performance for that reason alone. It also makes the film a superlative one for families to watch together, in effect serving as perhaps a child’s first introduction to the world of international art films.
The film is presented in a glowing 1.33:1 Technicolor transfer. You won’t see reds more vibrant than the red of the title balloon, and skin tones are very natural and most appealing. True, lack of anamorphic enhancement accounts for the slightest line twitter in some wrought iron fencing, but other tight line structures like brickwork in the streets and siding on houses are solid and artifact-free. There’s one slight hair I suspect was part of the original camerawork. Otherwise, it’s a beautiful transfer. The very few English subtitles are printed in white and are easy to read. The film is divided into 9 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono track is free from hiss or other audible defects. The spritely and seductive music by Maurice Le Roux and the accompanying street sounds are perhaps too trebly and lack any substantial bass, but that’s the only complaint in an otherwise solid encoding.
The package contains an insert with some beautiful and evocative color stills from the film as well as film notes by Michael Koresky and credit and chapter lists for reference.
The theatrical trailer for a double bill of The Red Balloon and White Mane (also offered for purchase this month by Janus Films) is presented in anamorphic widescreen (The Red Balloon does not suffer at all from the matting to make it widescreen; one almost wishes the film had been offered in both full screen and widescreen on the DVD) and runs 1½ minutes.
One of the joys of the French cinema, The Red Balloon continues its effortless ability to charm decades after its original release. What a wonderful way to welcome the film to home video!