"Red Balloon" in a restored 35mm print
Opportunities to see Albert Lamorisse's enchanting, nearly wordless 1956 fantasy classic, "The Red Balloon," aren't exactly rare. Northwest Film Forum showed...
Special to The Seattle Times
Movie review"The Red Balloon" and "White Mane," written and directed by Albert Lamorisse. 74 minutes total. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. Varsity.
Opportunities to see Albert Lamorisse's enchanting, nearly wordless 1956 fantasy classic, "The Red Balloon," aren't exactly rare. Northwest Film Forum showed it a couple of years ago, it's available on video and many a tattered 16mm print has scratched its way through a greasy schoolroom projector.
But the chance to see a new 35mm restoration print is unusual, especially when the movie is paired with Lamorisse's earlier and equally remarkable featurette, "White Mane" (1953). Once you've seen them together, you'll never want them to part. They're variations on a theme; the contrast makes the double bill more than the sum of its two parts.
A boy-and-his-horse story like no other, "White Mane" focuses on a young fisherman (Alain Emery) who bonds with a rebellious stallion that outsmarts the macho herdsmen who try to tame him. Gradually their pursuit becomes a matter of wounded pride, and the men set fire to a marsh to flush out the horse.
As the boy finds ways to thwart them, Edmond Sechan's black-and-white photography becomes more and more lyrical, and Maurice Leroux's score underlines the intensity of the competition. It all ends with an English-language voice-over promising a fairy-tale ending, though the final images suggest something else entirely.
Sechan and Leroux were onboard again for "The Red Balloon," but the boy this time was played by the director's 6-year-old son, Pascal Lamorisse. Instead of a horse, he bonds with a playful, shockingly red balloon that seems to transform the streets of Paris into a gray-brown wash.
When a street gang taunts him, he escapes in a way that promises freedom but carries a downside. It's certainly not something you'd want to try at home. In the end, both films suggest that friendship is fleeting, bullies rule and sometimes the only option is to take refuge in fantasy.
Both were honored at the Cannes Film Festival, and "The Red Balloon" won an Oscar for best original screenplay (defeating Fellini's "La Strada" in that category). Seen today, they look like forerunners of the French New Wave, especially François Truffaut's 1959 masterpiece, "The 400 Blows," which also focuses on a Parisian schoolboy's sense of freedom and his final-frame recognition of its limitations.
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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