I recently watched this enchanting short film for the first time and found myself swept up (no pun intended) by its delightful depiction of the simple joys of childhood (granted this was a childhood decades before video games, Toys R Us, etc),
This 34 minute French short film has almost no dialogue but every scene is a beautifully rendered moving painting. This simple yet charming tale begins when towheaded Pascal (the director’s 9 year old son) is on his way to school and comes across a large, lusciously, lollipop red balloon tied to a post. Pascal unties it, assumes ownership of the red globe and happily resumes his way to school with his prize. Pascal soon discovers that he cannot ride the streetcar he routinely takes to school as the conductor will not let him board accompanied by his big balloon.
Later, after school, when Pascal returns home, his mother opens a window and sticking her hand out releases the red balloon. Undeterred, Pascal opens the window as soon as mom turns her back and manages to grab a hold of the balloon string from the open window and bring it back in.
The following morning something wondrous occurs; the balloon seems to have developed a personality overnight ….seemingly filled with spirit in addition to helium. It follows the streetcar that Pascal is riding and obediently waits for Pascal while he is in school. When a teacher punishes Pascal for bringing his balloon to school, the balloon follows the teacher through the streets taunting him! I told you this red balloon had personality!
Although only 34 minutes long, the audience enjoys the almost puppy like friendship the Red Balloon shares with Pascal. However, when a pack of envious, feral neighborhood boys decide not only to separate Pascal from his balloon but to destroy it as well we see a bit of that psychological element of those who if they cannot possess something beautiful are determined to destroy it.
It would be unfair to those who have yet to experience this magical fable to give away the ending. I’ll merely state that in addition to some tears, the final scene is an uplifting and joyous experience. Filmed entirely in the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris in 1956, this movie garnered director Albert Lamorisse an Oscar for best original screenplay, the Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival as well as other numerous awards. I found myself almost wishing that I had been a child the first time I watched it, but the truth is that watching The Red Balloon returned me to the joy and wonder of appreciating simple beauty through child-like eyes.
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