Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien is often compared to the legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujiro Ozu who also had a minimalist approach to filmmaking, which focused on small moments of human emotion. Hou’s episodic, slice-of-life Flight of the Red Balloon is not a children’s film but it pays homage to Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 short The Red Balloon about a French boy who is followed by a mysterious red balloon.
Hou uses Lamorisse’s premise to glimpses into the hectic lives of Simon, his mother Suzanne and his nanny, Song. In between her job narrating puppet performances and dealing with a problematic downstairs tenant, Suzanne has little time to spend with Simon, which clearly distresses her. Juliette Binoche delivers one of her greatest performances as Suzanne, flickering between emotional outpours of devotion and the manic bursts of energy of somebody juggling too many commitments.
From Suzanne’s cramped apartment to the streets of Paris, Hou creates such authenticity that it is hard to believe that this is his first French language film. Hou fills the screen with beautifully composed shots and every moment of humanity among the quiet despair of these characters makes this a mesmerising film.
Originally appeared in The Big Issue, No. 304, 2008