Albert Lamorisse’s red balloon is still perfectly, lollipop round in Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Flight of the Red Balloon, a tribute to (and glorious expansion of) that 1956 children’s classic. Its unassailable roundness isn’t unimportant when discussing Hou’s film, as the sort of visual beauty this director is after has never necessarily been of the symmetrical kind. Instead, Hou revels in complex set-ups that honor the people within them by doting on their movements, mannerisms, withholdings, and revelations. The peripheral presence of the balloon stands in sharp contrast to this film’s gorgeously maintained mess: never has a film felt so spontaneous, slapdash, and utterly controlled all at once. It’s become a cliché to say that a film floats, that it exists in reverie, yet The Flight of the Red Balloon may come closer to embodying an earthbound heavenly state than any film I’ve seen. Its casual bliss is buoyed by a regard for beauty so accessible that, in its self-reflexive final scene, even a group of schoolchildren can notice it.
Click here to read Michael Koresky’s review of The Flight of the Red Balloon.