Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rarities: The Red Balloon


Rare: adjective. 1) not occurring very often; obscure or infrequent. 2) unusually remarkable or good.

Because writing movie reviews just on Monday isn't enough. Thus every week I'll highlight a film that falls into the category of "the average person has not even heard of this film, let alone has any desire to see it, yet they should check it out because it's exceptionally good." These are Rarities. And to start it off: The Red Balloon from 1956.

How a nearly wordless 34-minute-long film won the Palme d'Or at Cannes and the Oscar for Best Screenplay completely astounds me. Yet there is something about the story of a Parisian boy happening upon a large red balloon that transports me back into a childlike state of wonder. As the film progresses, we realize that this is no ordinary balloon as it defies the laws of physics by following the boy, hovering behind him, playfully chasing him, and even beginning a game of hide-and-seek. A bond is formed between the boy and the balloon, a strange relationship that represents something much more meaningful than a human and plastic. The entire film is an allegory--for what, that I'll leave that up to you--but there are definite parallels and connections to be made. The balloon could represent the boy's childhood; light and buoyant, yet fleeting as the world slowly drives away innocence. It could represent happiness and contentment in life, also seen as momentary and nebulous in its existence.

Yet more than anything else, I'm convinced that there is a strong parallel between the balloon and Christ. (Spoiler Alert!). As the boy is traveling along through life, he happens upon something bright, colorful, and joyous in his world of grey. A connection is formed, and the balloon actually pursues the boy, fighting obstacles and distractions in order to be with the child. Eventually it becomes hard to distinguish who is leading in their relationship; both are pursuing one another. The bright red balloon brings a sense of meaning, a relationship that transcends common understanding. The world around doesn't seem to fully understand the balloon. They only wish to trap it, to harm it, to destroy it. And so a mob of older boys hunt down the boy and the balloon, cornering them on an arid grass hill in the middle of a Paris neighborhood and killing the balloon. (It sounds silly to say that a balloon "dies," yet I found myself emotionally moved at its passing). Yet through its death, new life begins through hundreds of balloons gathering and lifting the once-saddened boy high into the air over the city, offering him a brand new view of a life that is beyond the constantly shifting world below. As with a relationship with Christ, the boy's life is dramatically transformed through his miraculous encounter.

Because of its lack of dialogue and short running time, this simple little film can be nearly universally enjoyed. No matter the age or the culture, this is a film of light-hearted whimsy that can be greatly appreciated. And if you've seen a film you think I should check out for Rarities, let me know in the comments!

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