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‘The Red Balloon’ Short Film Critique: Relationship and Poetry Through a Child’s Gaze

A short essay for my Film Theory and Criticism Class

The 1956 French short film classic “The Red Balloon” (Le ballon rouge) features a tender drama with a fine touch of flight of fancy. Its subdued setting features a lot of grays, suggesting the depressing quality of the film’s mood and tone, which is then contrasted with the blazing red balloon in mid air. 

This post-war motion-picture classic written and directed by Albert Lamorisse features a seemingly cynical world that turns magical amidst the bleak milieu through a child’s relationship with his red balloon. The melancholic grays surrounding the shouting red balloon reveals an angelic counterpoint and eventually highlights a beacon of hope in a world filled with moments of violence. Soon, the story reveals this strange connection with a red balloon that has a mind of its own – affecting the lonely child who also seems isolated in the society. This story initially focuses on innocence, then it progresses to highlight the bond between the faithful balloon and the charming boy. Another spark of relationship comes in as he meets a girl with a blue balloon that also has a mind of its own. Later on, the other boys reveal such a destructive environment as they try to steal and destroy the red balloon.

The film showcases wonderful moments of innocent wonder. The child’s journey with the red balloon shows vestiges of military presence through the sound of footsteps of the envious boys trying to steal the balloon. Meanwhile, the church sequence and the closing sequence suggest a religious or spiritual analogy, while allowing the kid to fly up in the high heavens with the many colorful balloons around – serving as a sense of awakening from the mere mundane worries of his life below. This post-World War II film seems to provide some influences in the 2009 Pixar classic “Up.”

The motion-picture offering, considering its time, is quite impressive in its use of practical and special effects. The woodwind musical score also aptly highlights the key parts of the story. The cheerful nostalgia coincides with the seemingly omnipresent balloon, journeying through cobblestone streets and eventually trekking dangerous grounds. Clearly, editing is very important in making the narrative work, especially with the filming of the red balloon and its interaction with the main character and the rest of the characters in the story.

During the most violent balloon scene at the end of the tale, from the sensibilities presenting the concepts of slow death and a violent end, it transitions to bring a sense of beauty showcasing the many colorful balloons around town helping the boy make sense of the loss in an abstract, actually poetic way. Here, the balloons symbolize dreams amidst the cruelty exposed to them. There is a sense of hope and a sense of escape – offering peace beyond the mundane. Here, the film presents control vs. the carefree. Close-up shots of the main character, as well as the many colorful balloons, support the insights of Bela Balazs in the power of the close-up and the concept of physiognomy. To quote Vsevolod Pudovkin in one of the readings, “There is a law in psychology that lays it down that if an emotion give birth to a certain movement, by imitation of this movement the corresponding emotion can be called forth.” This applies to this film’s use of shots and scenes.

Related Readings (Film Theory and Criticism):

Bela Balazs’ Physiognomy of Things: The Power of Close-up in Cinema

The Essence of Realism Through the Photographic Image with Andre Bazin

The Evolution of the Contemporary Film from Reading Classical Narrative and Spectacle Cinema to Defying and Deconstructing Through Counter and Art Cinema

‘Hedgehog in the Fog’ Short Film Critique: The Phantasm of Venturing into the Unknown

Rianne Hill I. Soriano
Rianne Hill Soriano is a freelance production artist working as a director, writer, educator, and consultant in film and commercial productions.

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