In Paris, Chinese cinema student Song Fang is hired to work as the nanny of Simon by his divorced mother Suzanne, who works voicing marionettes in a theater. Suzanne is having troubles with her tenant Marc, who does not pay the rent, while she waits for the return of her older daughter Louise, who lives with her father in Brussels. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carrying on in the traditional Hou Hsiao-hsien style, but in French
Watched at the Toronto International Film Festival, with a personal appearance by Juliette Binoche, a favourite guest of the TIFF.
Those who have watched "The red balloon" (1956) will never forget it. "Flight of the Red Balloon", Hou's Hsiao-hsien's second foreign language (i.e. non-Chinese) film, is not a remake of this all-time classic. Rather, Hou's film pays tribute to it, as well as borrows from it the obvious motif.
Those who have watched his first foreign language film Japanese "Cafe Lumiere" (2003) would recognize Hou's unassuming style: slow, languid pace visually; complete silence to dreamy piano in the audio department. This film actually already has more "action" (for want of a better word) than most of Hou's other films. Wandering nonchalantly around various slices of daily life of a simple family in Paris, the film starts with Song (Fang Song), a film student from Beijing, taking up a post as nanny of little kid Simon (Simon Iteanu) whose divorced mother Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) is a busy actress.
Revolving around the three principle characters, the film depicts various things alternatively amusing, frustrating, touching, mundane, inspiring at that particular time in their lives: Song and Simon getting to know each other, Suzanne's interesting current assignment of supplying all spoken dialogue in a puppetry theatre (how wonderfully Binoche does that!), hassles with an irresponsible basement tenant, Song's self-initiated project of filming a "red balloon" sequence with Simon as the subject, Simon's longing for his loving elder sister currently sojourning in Brussels, and more.
It is through sharing with them their simple daily lives rather than earth-shattering emotional turmoil that we come to know and care for these characters. In Hou's usual unassuming style, meticulous attention is given to simple details, things so simple that a crafty Hollywood screen-writer wouldn't dream of writing. Example. Suzanne brings home an armful of grocery as presents and, in high spirit, dumps them on the kitchen table, hitting the overhead lamp with the upswing of her arm. Completely as-a-matter-of-course, little Simon says, "Mind the lamp". Example. Two workmen, after a tough negotiation with the staircase, succeed in moving a piano upstairs, during which time Song and Simon wait patiently downstairs. As the workmen, after a friendly chat with Suzanne and receiving their fee, walk out of the door, Song walks in, carrying the piano stool. Suzanne exclaims, "Oh, I've forgotten all about the piano stool!"
Going back to the title, the red balloon, as mentioned, is used as a recurring motif, not too frequently, but just at the right moments to punctuate the mood of the film. This is vintage Hou and brilliant Pinoche, except to those few who walked out of the TIFF screening, obviously out of boredom (and at Cannes early this year too, from a review I've read). But then there are always a few of those.
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