The first time I watched Le Ballon Rouge was in French class my junior year of high school on VHS. The assignment was also accompanied with a text version of the same story, wherein I had to answer questions (en français no less) about this young boy having gained and lost a red balloon. And while I tended to reject most of the ‘higher art’ thrust onto me as a child (I distinctly recall falling asleep in the back seat of a rental car while driving through some European country as a 13-year-old, as example) I always remembered this film.
Ok, so what is there to say about this 34-minute film that contains little to no dialogue? Well, firstly Le Ballon Rouge is told via the perspective of a child (played by the director’s son, Pascal) in how it portrays both wonderment and dream. We open with a still shot of early morning in Ménilmontant, a neighborhood of Paris in the aftermath of World War II, wherein a young boy enters the screen and leans to pet a small gray cat. Then, from above, he witnesses a large, red balloon whose string is tangled in a street lamp. The boy, in effect, ‘saves’ the otherwise trapped balloon, and this results in a friendship. The balloon, which takes on a life of its own, develops a loyalty and even perhaps a love for the boy, as the two navigate the streets. At times, the balloon plays games and races ahead, only to then stall and hide within a corner in its attempt at peek-a-boo. As they continue on, the boy encounters street folks—young and old—and indeed seems out of place in this world of ‘grown ups.’ […]