Moving Pictures
May 15, 2008, 07:28AM

Shaping This Flight

Flight Of The Red Balloon is typically thought provoking for French art house cinema, using the simply singular image of a red balloon to reflect our distance from each other and the importance of translation in the modern world.

"But if you're going to visit Paris for a single museum, you might as well find lodging and get to know the people. And that's the challenge the movie proposes. It's less overt than the garbled continents of "Babel," and less obnoxious than a Verizon Wireless commercial. But like those two before it, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's movie suggests two possible reasons for why we have media (for which movies are only part of a set): to help keep us connected with one another first, and for entertainment second.

Binoche is the lively counterpoint to the balloon's sedated trip over and through Paris. She sometimes comes off as less human than the balloon, a comment that describes a quality of her character, not the quality of her acting (which is exceptional). She's often out of breath, having just finished one task and taking a brief pause before dashing off to begin the next. On the other hand, the balloon is filled with air, and it stays filled with air. When Binoche bursts into their apartment's narrow quarters, she seems like the guest who got drunk off champagne while the rest of the party was still deciding on aperitifs. Whenever she exits a scene all becomes calm; if you tried, you could probably hear the mice that live in the theater eating popcorn off the floor.

Rarely does a movie make such effective use of glass. Scene after scene, one person watches another person through a pane of glass. Or one person looks out a window, and we see that person twice - the person and the reflection. Here is a director making an honest plea for his medium, because between himself and his scene, there is always a lens, that one round piece of glass. It's simple division.



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