out of Five
Running time: 115
Beautifully shot, but ultimately dull and plot-free drama that's both elusive and frustrating, despite a strong performance from Binoche.
What's it all about?
Directed by Taiwanese filmmaker Hsiao-Hsien Hou (Three Times), Flight of the Red Balloon is set in Paris and stars Juliette Binoche as Suzanne, a single mother struggling to bring up her lonely 7-year-old son Simon (Simon Iteanu) and maintain her career as a writer and performer of Chinese-style puppet shows. Eventually, she hires a Chinese film student to act as Simon's child-minder and Song ropes Simon into her remake of Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 film, The Red Balloon.
Meanwhile, Suzanne rages against Simon's absentee father and takes out her frustrations on her downstairs neighbour (Hippolyte Giradot). And there's also the small matter of a mysterious red balloon, unconnected to Song's film, that seems to be following Simon around the city and looking after him.
Juliette Binoche is superb as the increasingly frazzled Suzanne, though her shrieky voice while she's voicing the puppets quickly becomes irritating, especially as the scene seems to go on forever. In addition, there's strong support from both Iteanu and Fang, while Hippolyte Giradot contributes a lively cameo as the annoying neighbour.
The film looks great too, courtesy of delightfully named cinematographer Pin Bing Lee. Hou also orchestrates some extremely impressive sequences, notably the balloon following Simon by taking the Metro.
The problem is that you spend almost the entire film waiting for the plot to kick in before you realise there isn't one. Basically the entire movie is balloon follows child around Paris, mother lives her life.
As a result, the film is painfully slow for long stretches of time and while individual shots are very beautiful and impressively staged (the Making Of DVD will be interesting), it becomes increasingly frustrating, because it doesn't appear to be saying anything.
Fans of Hou's work may well derive more from Flight of the Red Balloon than the average film-goer, but otherwise it remains frustratingly elusive and is ultimately disappointing. For hardcore arthouse aficionados only.
Flight Of The Red Balloon (Le Voyage Du Ballon Rouge) (PG)