At the Vancouver French Film Festival last night, Hsiao-hsien Hou’s 2007 release The Flight of the red ballon offered an excerpt from Parisian life. With long takes and slow camera moves, it seemed like a bit of an excuse for Pin Bing Lee to show off some beautiful cinematography.
The narrative and the visuals seem an extension of Felix Vallotton’s 1899 Le Ballon painting above. It’s on display at the Musee d’Orsay, Paris, France behind protective glass. The painting is our story – although transported to the contemporary city (or at least the city at the time Children of Men was released in theatres in France) – and the glass is rather literally often a store window between us and the actors.
Thus we often are looking at two things at once. It’s important to point out that these aren’t Spielberg rear view mirror kind of reflections.
I always felt as if the camera was squeezed into tight spaces at oblique angles to emphasize these reflections. Then again Paris is nothing but tight spaces and oblique angles when you aren’t above it’s glorious skyline.
We also get this sense of nostalgia and restlessness from some slight intensity in exposure. We’ve got the use of great summer lighting – open skies with heat and lens flare.
When I wasn’t watching the fantastic imagery, I was watching Juliette Binoche balance her hectic character against her calm son. Half the time I was mesmerized when she slowed down just enough to be exhaling with the calm of an early morning post marathon peace. Her character was so wonderfully believable at the edge of emotional collapse – struggling to maintain coherence. Too bloody real life for fantasy but not too far away from magic.
Speaking of which, the almost perfectly spherical balloon had a small but magic role: as if it were following along with us, sometimes waiting for as at the next scene. It had an odd compassion that the characters almost took for granted or ignored as if it were the camera. It was outside the story as much as it was in it. I found myself wondering how they manipulated its flight.