One of the most iconic short films in the history of cinema, most cinephiles will be familiar with this 1956 French classic The Red Balloon. Directed by the great Albert Lamorisse, the premise of the film is deceptively and refreshingly simple: a young boy who discovers a strangely vibrant red balloon on the way to school.
That young boy was the director’s own son Pascal whose innocence was inherently cinematic. An exquisite work of art, The Red Balloon chronicles Pascal’s adventures as he realises that the balloon he has come across has agency of its own and follows him everywhere even though his mother does not let it into their house.
Filmed in a post-war Paris, The Red Balloon was a powerful allegory for optimism for a better future. The contrast between the city’s drab frameworks and the threateningly loud colour of the balloon serves as an important element, providing substance to all the subtextual investigations that Lamorisse engages in.
Almost devoid of dialogue, The Red Balloon is a visual experience that transports the viewer to another world. In that short run-time, Lamorisse manages to weave together a wide range of emotions that are fundamental to the human condition: heartbreak, joy, friendship, hope. The ending itself is beautifully affirming despite the pain.
Even though Pascal’s helium-filled friend is targeted and eliminated by a group of older boys who cannot stand the idea of the balloon itself. It is ruthlessly stamped out by another boy but the balloon’s spirit is passed onto others like it, with Pascal being eventually rescued by many sentient balloons from the streets of Paris.
The Red Balloon ended up making a huge impact and won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay while also nabbing the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes. The Red Balloon has influenced many other filmmakers, ranging from the Taiwanese New Wave master Hou Hsiao-Hsien to the modern pioneer Damien Chazelle.
Watch The Red Balloon below.