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The Red Balloon
August 4, 2013 6:58 PM   Subscribe

The Red Balloon, originally released in 1956, by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse, won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay. A 34 minute short, filmed in the Ménilmontant neighborhood of Paris. The film received a 95% rating on RottenTomatoes. And, although it's been mentioned in comments once or twice here at MetaFilter, I don't believe it's ever been linked. Find your favorite 6 year old kid, make some popcorn, open a bottle of wine, champagne might be best, sit back, and enjoy. You'll find it a fantastic conversation starter with your little one.
posted by HuronBob (55 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite

 
One of my favorite pieces of trivia is that Albert Lamorisse is also the same person who created the board game Risk. He did it the year after this movie was released.
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:03 PM on August 4, 2013 [21 favorites]


Thanks for reminding me about this film. My dad was very keen that my brother and I watch this when we about that age - I've sent him the link for a bit of reminiscence.

Did not know that about Risk though - that's amazing!
posted by loominpapa at 7:06 PM on August 4, 2013


I remember watching that movie around that age. I looked at my grandma afterwards and went, "huh?"

That's all I remember.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 7:08 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oooh I remember watching this in school. The risk link will be my excuse to make my thirteen year old watch it!! Thanks for the link!
posted by chapps at 7:15 PM on August 4, 2013


We had this at the library when I was a kid. It always struck me as so, so sad, but then, pretty much all I remember is the balloon crying. Had no idea it was that old.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:18 PM on August 4, 2013


Thank you, HuronBob. I will be sharing this with my kids. One of my treasures is a copy of the book "The Red Balloon," which was made from photographs taken during the filming. It begins:
Once upon a time in Paris there lived a little boy whose name was Pascal. He had no brothers or sisters, and he was very sad and lonely at home. Once he brought home a lost cat, and some time later a stray puppy. But his mother said animals brought dirt into the house, and so Pascal was soon alone again in his mother's clean well-kept rooms. Then one day, on his way to school, he caught sight of a fine red balloon, tied to a street lamp. Pascal laid his school bag on the ground. He climbed up the lamppost, untied the balloon, and ran off with it to the bus stop.
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:18 PM on August 4, 2013 [6 favorites]


Once upon a time in Paris there lived a little boy whose name was Pascal.

This also comes up in his Wikipedia bio, but Pascal was the name of Lamorisse's son, and he starred in the movie (with one of his daughters, too).
posted by SpacemanStix at 7:22 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


From The Critic: (part of) The Red Balloon II
posted by JHarris at 7:25 PM on August 4, 2013 [5 favorites]


The first school I went to, every Friday afternoon the nuns showed us short films that always were foreign and obscure but still to 5 or 6 year olds in 1970s South Africa completely enthralling: Indian or Persian shadow puppet animation, strange shorts and animation from the Soviet Union, that sort of thing. The Red Balloon featured a few times, and I think we loved it the most because it actually had a narrative that made sense to us.
Watching it now, I'm enjoying most of all having a window into life in post-war Paris.
posted by Flashman at 7:33 PM on August 4, 2013 [7 favorites]


I loved the movie, and I had the picture book as well. A wonderful, beautiful film.
posted by Peach at 7:37 PM on August 4, 2013


The only other balloon-centric work I can think of is Billy's Balloon, which I first saw at a Spike & Mike's Festival of Animation.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 7:40 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


In college, I tried to rent "The Red Balloon" at one of the local artsy video rental places. I didn't quite remember the name or what kind of fetish object the child had, though, just that it was European and starred a kid.

The Tin Drum is nothing like "The Red Balloon," and you probably don't want your kids to watch it.
posted by infinitewindow at 7:42 PM on August 4, 2013 [18 favorites]


The only other balloon-centric work I can think of is...

Clearly you're not a child of the eighties.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2013


Although I'd forgotten that ending. It's actually kind of scary and sinister.

Here's another very entertaining, yet under-appreciated, balloon-centric film.
posted by Flashman at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2013


I have to confess, I hate this movie. They always ran it for us at elementary school when it rained and we couldn't have outdoor recess, so I associate it with being stuck inside and having wet shoes.
posted by padraigin at 7:53 PM on August 4, 2013 [9 favorites]


Mr Show: Red Balloon
posted by JHarris at 7:54 PM on August 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


The real triumph on any movie watching day was convincing the teacher to run the projector backwards, instead of just rewinding directly reel to reel waiting for the flapping.

The Red Balloon is such a classic. Somehow I doubt they show kids Winter of the Witch anymore.
posted by bleep-blop at 8:14 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Albert Lamorisse, the director of this wonderful film, has another claim to fame: He invented the board game Risk.
posted by bcarter3 at 8:18 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


See also: White Mane.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:31 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


HuronBob and I seem to share the distinction of being almost the same age as the child star of the film. In any case, Paris looks like a much more interesting place to grow up than Huntsville, Texas...
posted by jim in austin at 8:37 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


Bart brings Maggie a red balloon from Paris in The Crepes of Wrath episode( which was NOT mentioned in the stuff you might have missed section in the season book)
posted by brujita at 8:52 PM on August 4, 2013 [2 favorites]


JHarris: "Mr Show"

Ctrl-F: Mr Show.

(y) :)
posted by symbioid at 8:54 PM on August 4, 2013


> Clearly you're not a child of the eighties.

Wow, ehy, you know what's really hard to find? An mp3 of the english version of 99 Red Balloons for purchase as a standalone MP3. Stupid "club mix".
posted by Space Coyote at 8:59 PM on August 4, 2013


This was the first movie I ever saw.

I lived in a little village in the mountains of New Mexico and we got such bad television coverage that we pretty much only ever had one channel, and that very spottily and intermittently. Between that and my parents' "two hours of TV per week" rule -- and the fact that we never rented or went to the movies -- I had never seen anything other than cartoons, football, news (boring!), and Star Trek reruns before entering school.

They showed this in my first grade class. To this day I'm not sure why, or what the context was. But several things about seeing it blew my mind: just the concept of a movie, the idea of something with English subtitles (I thought they filmed it in another language on purpose so we would have to practice our reading), the look of the Paris streets, the story of the balloon that was the lonely boy's friend...

Mainly I was taken by all the evocative scenes of the grey city background and the bright red balloon, floating by. I haven't seen the movie since then but that is just how I remembered it. Thank you for the wonderful trip down memory lane.
posted by forza at 9:11 PM on August 4, 2013 [12 favorites]


See also The Flight of the Red Balloon, which is partly an homage to the original. I didn't really like it personally, but there are some really cool filmic references and Juliette Binoche's performance as a scatter-brained mum is very good (if annoying).
posted by Athanassiel at 9:14 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


An mp3 of the english version of 99 Red Balloons for purchase as a standalone MP3

Why would you want that when the German version is so superior?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:08 PM on August 4, 2013 [4 favorites]


I saw that film as a very small child, in San Francisco. My mother loved French cinema.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:12 PM on August 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


I saw this as an adult about ten years ago and was spellbound. Thanks for the post! I didn't care for The Flight of the Red Balloon either, Athanassiel. However, there's a Toni Collette film called The Black Balloon that's excellent. It put me through the emotional wringer, though there are funny bits too.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:33 PM on August 4, 2013


The real triumph on any movie watching day was convincing the teacher to run the projector backwards, instead of just rewinding directly reel to reel waiting for the flapping.


We watched this so many times in elementary school. Sad kid. Bullies. Balloon. Redemption. Whatever. What I remember most is trying to convince the substitute teacher to play it (on film) backwards in its entirety.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:56 PM on August 4, 2013


I feel this film may give a child unrealistic expectations.
posted by Decani at 12:56 AM on August 5, 2013


Sometimes I like to imagine the boy, the balloon (as the car) and the girl with the blue balloon as the grown up stars of Claude Lelouch's "C'était un Rendevous".
posted by rongorongo at 1:43 AM on August 5, 2013


Also - if you are struck by a love for this film that leaves you wanting more than 34 minutes - there is an app for that.
posted by rongorongo at 1:56 AM on August 5, 2013


I loved, loved this film as a kid. I think it was because it might have been the first film I ever saw where the focus was on beauty and visuals. Every other film I'd seen before that was about telling a story and the sound and visuals were just in service of that story. This was just beauty.

One of my favorite films is probably Fellini's 8 1/2, where it seems that every shot is meant to be frozen and framed on a wall and admired. Watching the movie evokes that same feeling in me as the Red Balloon did, of puzzlement and awe.

On another note, the Paris neighborhood of Ménilmontant is also the setting of Pauline Kael's favorite film in the world and one of the great but unknown masterpieces of film. The film is called Ménilmontant and it is from 1926. Another baffling, beautiful thing.
posted by vacapinta at 2:17 AM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]


Bob Godfrey, the animator who mentored Terry Gilliam, created a homage to the Red Balloon in 1979. It's called Dream Doll and it features a gentleman of a certain age and an inflatable companion. Not easy to find but worth tracking down.
posted by Hogshead at 3:40 AM on August 5, 2013


I also saw it as a child in school, more than once, but when I started watching it again last night I realized my memory had been wrong all these years. I would have sworn up and down - really sworn, probably argued, even - that it was in black and white with the red balloon the only spot of color. I was so convinced that when the video started up last night I said disgustedly "Oh it's been colorized" and then went looking for that information only to realize that no, it was my memory at fault. Strange tricks of memory and time, I suppose, and maybe my way of processing that 1950s Paris was in fact a pretty gray place.
posted by mygothlaundry at 5:49 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Our elementary school screened this several times, and the film always made me sad. The boy's sadness was infectious, and the finale never quite lifted my melancholy.
posted by doctornemo at 6:16 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who was terrified by this as a child? So creepy...
posted by JoanArkham at 6:36 AM on August 5, 2013


I remember seeing this, probably on PBS, at a youngish age. It was engrossing. nice post.
posted by theora55 at 6:57 AM on August 5, 2013


Are we supposed to give the 6 year old kid the champagne? Or just get drunk while the kid watches the movie? I'm not French, but I know they have different attitudes about alcohol.
posted by Cookiebastard at 7:08 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I swear it was another rainy day elementary school movie where I saw the film, that or PBS during the summer.

Disney's Paperman had a nod to the movie in a brief scene with the protagonist on his way to his destiny.
posted by Atreides at 7:08 AM on August 5, 2013


Awesome!

In keeping with the rainy day recess procedures of Yankee Ridge Elementary School, Urbana, IL, circa 1978, we'll also be screening The Unicorn in the Garden, and Winter of the Witch.
posted by dirtdirt at 7:27 AM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Are we supposed to give the 6 year old kid the champagne? Or just get drunk while the kid watches the movie?

I think the French would feed kidibul to that dilemma.

I would have sworn up and down - really sworn, probably argued, even - that it was in black and white with the red balloon the only spot of color.

Me too. In fact it is associated, in my mind, with the early days of colour TV in the UK. The film does look a little like it has been colorized to me - I guess because it was shot with such attention to using a particular palette.

Finally -The Red Balloon must feature the longest ever death scene, for a balloon.
posted by rongorongo at 7:39 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Are we supposed to give the 6 year old kid the champagne? Or just get drunk while the kid watches the movie?


When I spent New Years in Paris with a friend's family once, all the kids were having Champomy.
posted by vacapinta at 7:44 AM on August 5, 2013


I have heard that in 1967 there was an unauthorized, dystopian sequel to this film.
posted by chambers at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2013


Are we supposed to give the 6 year old kid the champagne? Or just get drunk while the kid watches the movie?

Yes.
posted by HuronBob at 9:16 AM on August 5, 2013


I'm pretty sure they used to play this quite a lot on HBO in the early days, before they had acquired the rights to an extensive kids film catalog, and you could occasionally be exposed to interesting foreign and independent films, along with animated and live action shorts. Another film that I always associate with this one, as it also involved the adventures of a solitary roaming boy, is The Little Fugitive, only this one took place in 1950s Coney Island.
posted by Atom Eyes at 9:31 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Watching this movie as a young child left me depressed for weeks. Though I'm sure that whatever kid any of you is going to watch this with is having a much safer and far less anxiety-filled childhood than I had, you may want to realise that watching this movie may not be an awesome experience for every young child.
posted by rjs at 10:09 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ah, yes; [puffs on cigarette] what a whimsical tale for children. But you must know mon petit: there is no fleet of savior balloons when you're a grown-up in Paris. Seriously. They will pop your balloon and leave you to mourn in the gray filthiness of Place Pigalle and then you get scammed into changing thirty dollars for ten euros. Enjoy your croissant aux amandes and your aged Camembert, my friend, for they are the only happiness and magic left for you here. [downs entire bottle of Malbec]
posted by Mooseli at 11:22 AM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


I recall seeing this in elementary school in the early 80s - we often had some sort of film presentation on Fridays. The teachers and administrators had made it out to be a very big deal at the time. Looking back on it now, I think the reason they made such a big deal about it was not so much of it being a highly regarded artistic film, but that it was chosen in response to the uproar caused by two very graphic documentaries we were shown the week before: one about cigarettes and how the Marlboro Man had cancer, and something else which involved the grasslands of the Midwest and the hunting of prarie dogs which, I kid you not, had repeated, graphic, close-up, slow-motion footage of prarie dogs getting shot with high powered rifles. I distinctly remember about 15-20% of the audience of 3rd and 4th graders crying, either from being convinced that one of their parents was going to die of cancer before they got home that day, or just plain traumatized by the images of exploding cute animals.

So yeah, The Red Balloon that day was the ultimate in what we would call today a "unicorn chaser."
posted by chambers at 11:37 AM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]


Seconding the companion movie "White Mane" (above). Check it out.
posted by feelinggood at 3:16 PM on August 5, 2013


Amazing what two production assistants and a couple pieces of fishing line can do.
posted by Ardiril at 4:09 PM on August 5, 2013


I put it on and watched it with my partner and our 5 and 7 year olds tonight. A few of their comments, questions and observations.

That kid is a really good climber.
Why is that place so broken?
When is something exciting going to happen?
Kung Fu Panda 2 is a lot more interesting than this.
Where are all the grown ups?
How come he's wearing his pyjamas outside?

And from my francophone partner, whispered nervously into my ear about two minutes after the film began "does he fly or does he die?".

Will discuss symbolism on our next walk.
posted by Cuke at 6:36 PM on August 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


Excellent. My father made sure I saw this when I was a kid, and I look forward to sharing this with him again. Thanks, HuronBob.
posted by homunculus at 6:46 PM on August 5, 2013


Way back when, the grownups wanted to show kids heartbreakingly sad films of all kinds. My first film was Old Yeller, boy's beloved dog gets rabies, had to be shot. The Yearling: boy's beloved baby deer is a nuisance, father orders him to shoot his own pet baby deer, which he does. Bambi, mother deer burned alive in forest fire.

Then there was The Red Balloon, a book I knew the grownups wanted me to like, all those intellectually approved of photographs, charming little Pascal in his cute Parisian outfit on the cobblestone streets. But looking a little closer, the shadows cloud the views. A boy of maybe 9 or so all alone, no parental guidance on the tram. He felt orphaned to me that little boy, neglected and unloved.

The film moved me though I didn't want it to, in depressing, nightmarish ways. That tender love Pascal had for the balloon, the reciprocated love and loyalty of the balloon. The magic of the balloon playing hide and seek, following without being held, a free bird but connected by the thread of love. Then that philandering red balloon chased after the young girl's blue balloon! Hmm. I could tell things were going to turn out badly after that. The predator gang of boys stalked Pascal and the balloon, the guard threw him out of church. Then when Pascal stops to buy a treat, the predators attack. Lord of the Flies cruelty and execution, a slow, miserable, tormented, shriveling, then brutal death.

Swarmed by commiserating balloon sympathizers, the boy is lifted to deadly heights, uprooted, away from human emotions, now with only balloons as friends.

That story depressed me deeply. The moral seemed to be that the world was isolating, brutal, unloving, unsafe and that magic-imagined friends were the only way to survive.

If I switch off my child's mind, I can see the film and book as "charming" but the heart of my inner child bleeds.

*off switch. Thanks for the great post, such a sweet, endearing film. Lovely to see the streets of elegant Paris as they were back then.
posted by nickyskye at 7:21 PM on August 5, 2013 [7 favorites]


I still haven't watched this all the way through because I just emotionally can't deal with the idea of a sentient balloon. What if every balloon I've ever had was a being with feelings and a sense of self? Wouldn't that be the most awful thing in the world?
I really, really couldn't handle most Disney films as a child. Or much of anything, really.
posted by Acheman at 5:12 AM on August 6, 2013


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