The sky above, the world be­low

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews - DON­ALD CLARKE

FLIGHT OF THE RED BALOON/ LE VOY­AGE DE BAL­LON ROUGE Di­rected by Hou Hsiao-Hsien. Star­ring Juli­ette Binoche, Si­mon Iteanu, Hip­polyte Gi­rar­dot, Song Fang, Louise Mar­golin Club, IFI, Dublin, 114 min

READ­ERS who ran scream­ing from Wong Kar Wai’s atro­cious My Blue­berry Nights could be for­given for ap­proach­ing the latest film from Hou Hsiao-Hsien with some cau­tion.

Fear not. Flight of the Red Bal­loon does, in­deed, find an­other idio­syn­cratic Asian di­rec­tor shep­herd­ing a movie star through a west­ern lo­ca­tion. But Hou’s char­ac­ter­is­tic traits (loose-limbed plot­ting, long, com­plex takes, a pho­bia of close-ups) are all in place, and the move from Tai­wan to Paris has not lessoned their be­witch­ing ef­fect.

The film fol­lows a few days in the life of a bo­hemian house­hold. Juli­ette Binoche, her hair dyed blonde, plays Suzanne, a sin­gle mother who, de­spite be­ing sad­dled with a hope­less ab­sent hus­band, some­how man­ages to sup­port her son (Si­mon Iteanu) by nar­rat­ing pup­pet shows.

The story be­gins with Suzanne hir­ing a Chi­nese film grad­u­ate, Song (Song Fang), as a nanny for the boy. We learn of Suzanne’s fi­nan­cial dis­putes with a layabout ten­ant and find out a lit­tle about Song’s at­ti­tude to­wards cin­ema. A par­tic­u­lar ad­mirer of Al­bert Lamor­isse’s short The Red Bal­loon, the young wo­man em­barks on a few ten­ta­tive pas­tiches of that great pic­ture star­ring her young charge.

Hou in­tends the film as a homage to Lamor­isse’s piece – in which a preda­tory bal­loon fol­lowed a child about Paris – but the con­nec­tions with the shorter film are, in fact, largely su­per­fi­cial. Flight of the Red Bal­loon stands up as a wor­thy suc­ces­sor to ear­lier Hou gems such as Café Lu­mière and Three Times, in which his primly dis­pas­sion­ate cam­era fol­lowed quiet events with a cool dis­cre­tion. Binoche and Song, both of whom coast com­fort­ably through their roles, are al­ways kept at a re­spectable dis­tance and never suf­fer the in­dig­nity of hur­ried takes or ec­cen­tric an­gles.

As a con­se­quence, Flight of the Red Bal­loon takes on a wel­com­ing tone that should draw in all but the least pa­tient of view­ers. It’s good to see one mod­ern mas­ter avoid­ing any un­due dam­age in tran­sit.

Juli­ette Binoche and Fang Song in Flight of the Red Bal­loon

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