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The Flight of the Red Balloon

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(No longer in theaters)
  • Rating: No Rating
  • Director: Hsiao-hsien Hou   Cast: Juliette Binoche, Hippolyte Girardot, Simon Iteanu, Fang Song, Louise Margolin
  • Running Time: 115 minutes
  • Reader Rating: Write a Review




François Margolin, Kristina Larsen


IFC First Take

Release Date

Apr 4, 2008

Release Notes



In The Flight of the Red Balloon, the great Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien uses Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 masterpiece The Red Balloon as a springboard for his own masterpiece—a distinctively modern and allusive one, yet so tender and plaintive that you understand what Hou is up to on a preconscious level. Lamorisse’s balloon now floats above Simon (Simon Iteanu), a 7-year-old Paris boy whose single mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), can barely keep her life together, and whose new nanny, Song (Song Fang), is a quiet, attentive film student who thinks about making her own version of The Red Balloon.

The film is built on contrasts, on invisible currents and crosscurrents. There is the steadiness of Hou’s camera and the chaos of Suzanne’s world, with its implicit toll on the psyche of her little boy, lost amid the clatter. Suzanne writes puppet shows in which her mythical characters are transfigured, yet her life is miserably untranscendent. She sits amid piles of paper, her peroxided hair clenched, wailing into her phone, high-strung and bereft. Binoche improvised her lines, fumbling her way along like Suzanne, and the tension between her myopia and Hou’s higher gaze gives the film its center, its meaning.

The Flight of the Red Balloon is full of allusions to filmmaking, even to the art of making a balloon pulled around by a person look as though it’s floating free. That balloon stands in for Hou and Song; at times it has the impishness of a Miyazaki god. It watches over this neglected child, helpless to intervene. Yet its beneficence—and the art that gave birth to it—makes you look to the sky, and hope.

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