Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge (2007) dir. Hou Hsaio Hsien
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu
Part of the joy of ‘doing the Festival’ is experimenting in the hopes of making those eye-opening discoveries you can tell all your friends about – “Dude, you gotta check out this Chinese-French art film about a balloon that floats around Paris!” “Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge” wasn’t exactly a blind choice of film. After reading some early rave reviews I made it my first film of the festival - a quiet story about a young boy and his Chinese nanny who are followed around by a lifelike red balloon. Can I have my money back? “Master” director Hou Hsaio Hsien’s film moves at a snail’s pace across a football field, with virtually no plot or point to the film than to satisfy discriminating art house film snobs. Stay away.
To give the film some credit “Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge” opens with a wonderful sequence as Hsien’s camera follows an inconspicuous balloon around a subway station. It seems to have a life of its own, and follows the young boy around the city like a lost dog. Then the balloon disappears from the story for about an hour, when the real film begins. Juliette Binoche plays Suzanne, the mother to the young boy, Simon (Simon Iteanu). Her husband is on an extended business trip to Montreal and her elder daughter is studying in Belgium. The pressure of taking care of Simon, while working a busy job of a voiceover actress is taking its toll. Therefore she hires a Chinese nanny, Song (Fang Song) to babysit him. That’s really about all the plot I can explain. Honestly, there is no more plot. The balloon comes back now and again, as we learn Song has been making a film about the balloon and has cast Simon as her defacto lead. Curiously Suzanne isn’t freaked out when Song casually tells her she’s been filming her son as part of a student film project. Creepy?
At the beginning of the screening the gorgeous Binoche, wearing a revealing dress only a movie star could pull off, introduced the film and told us of her wonderful collaboration with Hsien. She said she never received direction and was told to make up dialogue that seemed natural to her. The result may be a “natural-feeling” film, but there is a reason screenwriters are hired to write a script before production, so the director doesn’t waste time shooting rolls and rolls of balloons flying across the sky or recording thousand of feet of banal conversation. That’s what this film turns out to be.
I suspect if Mr. Hsien’s name wasn’t attached this film wouldn’t even warrant a discussion, nor would it have been accepted into the festival, but then again, I wouldn’t have been able to gaze at the gorgeous beauty of Juliette Binoche in the flesh. That’s where the one star comes from. Avoid this like the plague.