Saturday, August 02, 2008

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

The first Hou Hsiao Hsien film in the west and the second outside Taiwan (the first was the amazing Café Lumiére filmed in Japan) is a very-very special movie about what critics have called as life in a large city in the 21st century and I modify as life in a large western city nowadays where you can find chaos and also poetic visual beauty as perhaps extremes of a string of quotidian and mundane activities. And this last sentence resumes this visually amazing movie with the most interesting background story that I just learned.

The film is the first that the Musée d’Orsay commissioned to celebrate its 20th anniversary and the idea is to reunite contemporary artists with the treasures of the past and they have only one request: the museum has to appear at least in one scene. The museum project seems as interesting as this film that is a tribute (not inspired) to Albert Lamorisse acclaimed 1956 short Le Ballon Rouge (The Red Ballon). So, the film reunites one of the most acclaimed contemporary filmmakers with a treasure that if you haven’t seen it I suggest you do whenever you find it, as the short is truly a marvelous children fantasy.

Also extremely interesting is to find that the movie has a screenplay that has no dialogue. Each character is extremely well developed with a detailed background, but the dialogue had to be “found” by the actors. After learning this I have to say BIG CHAPEAU to Juliette Binoche as I would have never imagined that she could “find” so many words that totally fit her chaotic character.

The film follows three characters divorced Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), her son Simon (Simon Iteanu) and the newly hired nanny Song (Taiwanese non-actor Fang Song) that is getting to know the few people around the life of small family. But, Suzanne is loosing control of her very busy life as she’s preparing her new puppet show, has to deal with intrusive tenants that haven’t paid rent, Simon father is in Montreal, etc and she is left all alone to deal with everything, except Simon that now has Song. This is a story full of extreme contrasts and Suzanne is chaos, while Simon and Song are poetic bliss, but when Suzanne interacts with Simon or Song, she’s the extreme opposite when she becomes peaceful. Then in-between characters performances we have many quiet moments where we follow the red balloon that simply mesmerized me and took me to another dimension, especially because the red balloon travels through a not often seen in movies Paris. The only time we will see the always-beautiful Paris is in the lyrical finale.

As you can imagine Juliette Binoche performance is so powerful that is disturbing and will make you feel quite uncomfortable from the very first moment we enter her chaotic apartment even when in that scene she’s not there. Then you have Song that while seeming very busy with film school is Binoche’s character opposite and there you have balance between opposites. It’s truly a very simple story delivered in a very complex manner.

The film as a movie has the most outstanding cinematography with a succession of incredibly beautiful takes, many of them playing with reflections and there is one long take with Binoche talking with Simon father while seating inside a car that is absolutely mesmerizing as what is reflected in the windshield glass will just visually blow your mind. Somehow I find outstanding that Hou Hsiao Hsien is able to keep his particular filmmaking style and codes when he’s not telling a Chinese story; he did it with Tokyo in Café Lumiére and he does it with Paris in this movie, and in both cases he was not really familiar with the city and the culture, and he succeeded. This is truly outstanding especially after seeing that not all filmmakers succeed, just remember Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights.

The film was the opening movie at the Un Certain Regard parallel section of the 2007 Cannes and has awards and accolades in festivals around the world. Then the film absolutely is not for all audiences, as on the surface it looks like not much is happening in the movie, you have to decipher symbols –as for example the red balloon-, has extremely slow pace at moments and other moments with agitated chaos, has silences, and scenes with a beautiful piano music only.

This movie can be the most accessible Hou Hsiao Hsien movie that I have seen as it has a clearer story, but I know that only those that admire his particular filmmaking style will enjoy this movie. I strongly recommend the movie to all serious cinema lovers.

Big Enjoy!!!

No comments yet