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IFC presents
Flight of the Red Balloon (2007)

ďAnyhow, Simon, this is Song. Song, Simon. Get to know each other.Ē
- Suzanne (Juliette Binoche)

Review By: Chuck Aliaga   
Published: January 23, 2009

Stars: Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu
Other Stars: Hippolyte Girardot, Fang Song, Louise Margolin
Director: Hou Hsiao Hsien

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (adult situations)
Run Time: 01h:55m:26s
Release Date: October 21, 2008
UPC: 796019814751
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-AA D-

DVD Review

Among films geared towards kids, one of the all-time greats is undeniably the 1956 short film The Red Balloon. In that classic, director Albert Lamorisse made the most of a 30-minute runtime to make audiences of all ages believe that a boy could be best friends with a balloon. Now, more than 50 years later, Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien (Three Times, Millennium Mambo) takes Lamorisseís short film and expands on the central theme to come up with 2008ís Flight of the Red Balloon. While similar in their central themes and the appearance of a red balloon, the newer, feature-length film is a far different experience than the one we had back in 1956.

Simon (Simon Iteanu) is a young boy living in Paris with his mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche). She is raising Simon alone now, as his father has left for Canada, and his half-sister is in Brussels. While raising a young boy on her own is difficult enough, her job as a puppet theater director is demanding, requiring Suzanne to hire Song (Fang Song) to look after Simon. Song is a film student who has come from Beijing to study, so becoming Simonís new caretaker is just what she needs to make ends meet. What Song didnít realize when she took the job was just how attached she would get to this family, and how the pair would give her a new perspective on life.

Those of you that like your movies fast-paced and full of plot might not have been the audience the director had in mind for this project. Instead, Hou Hsiao Hsien shoots the daily activities of these people as if they were the subject of an unnarrated documentary. He doesnít so much tell a story, as invite us in to Suzanne, Simon, and Songís life. Donít worry, though, this doesnít become a cheap reality TV show by any stretch of the imagination, but, at times, it does feel like we are simply eavesdropping on otherís lives.

Juliette Binoche does a masterful job portraying a single mother that is slowly allowing her world to come tumbling down around her. Suzanneís biggest flaw is that she continually tries to make everyone in her life happy, but, far too often; these good intentions are carried forth at the expense of her young son. Binoche is always believable, playing a woman who so desperately wants to be reunited with her husband and daughter, despite the ominous signs that point to that not happening in the near future. Newcomer Fang Song is quite good and natural as Simonís new caretaker, but Binoche shows her Oscar-caliber acting chops each and every time sheís on the screen.

Song references The Red Balloon not long after she meets Simon, and it is actually talked about in passing many times throughout the film. While this is a nice touch and homage to Lamorisseís film, it wound up being more of a distraction than anything. I understand that the main purpose of the film was to take that old movie and run with the basic concept, but I just couldnít get emotionally involved with these characters and this extended story, despite some excellent filmmaking techniques and unforgettable performances. Perhaps the film is a bit too meandering and plotless, as there was just something missing here that is difficult to pinpoint.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is an excellent one, featuring wonderful color rendering that does a great job handling the reds that dominate the palette. Images are sharp and detailed, with not a single instance of visible dirt, grain, or other print flaws.

Image Transfer Grade: A


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is also very impressive, but thereís little in the way of bombast or deep, aggressive bass that many 5.1 mixes boast. Instead, we get wonderful atmosphere and detailed ambient sounds that practically put us in the middle of the same Paris streets that the characters wander through during the film. Dialogue is crisp, clear and well-blended into the overall mix.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Mister Lonely, Beautiful Ohio, Love Songs
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The only extras are previews for other DVD releases.

Extras Grade: D-


Final Comments

Hou Hsiao Hsienís Flight of the Red Balloon works as an homage to the 1956 classic short film, The Red Balloon. Unfortunately, it doesnít always work as a family drama, thanks to an underdeveloped story, and despite some wonderful acting. The DVD is a mixed bag, in that it features strong audio and video, but virtually nothing in the form of supplemental material.


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