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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, July 11, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | The Film Meme No. 77

[77th of 100]. Thirty-six minutes. That's how short this film is, but in its slender running time, it becomes an epic of friendship and terror, of innocence lost and innocence regained. And almost in defiance of its brevity, it achieves a mythic appeal, which is perhaps due to the aesthetic and narrative choices Albert Lamorisse makes to tell his tale: it is very much a sound film, but there is virtually no dialogue [save for some spare exhortations, and the war cries of little boys in narrow streets, which punctuates the film's silences with a thrilling beat]; it is very much a color film, but it captures a Parisienne neighbourhood in a drab palette of brown and grey [which makes what it allows for color to really pop out]; it is very much a simple story about a lonely boy looking for friendship [but it turns that tale upside down by providing the body a bond with a sentient red balloon]; and it is very much steeped in stark 1950s French reality yet embraces the whimsy of fantasy [giving us Gallic magic realism]. What I'm trying to say is, the film is built on simple aesthetics, but finds its power in undermining its very structure -- and I think this is where the film makes a crucial difference, and has ensured its place in the classics of world cinema. Because how many short films are there that have become iconic in film history? You can count them with the fingers in your hands, and the short list would include mostly experimental films like Un Chien Andalou (1929) and La Jetée (1962), and a documentary like Night and Fog (1956), and barely any narrative film save perhaps World of Tomorrow (2015). This 1956 film feels like an anomaly, so much so that most cineasts don't even think of it as a short film, conquering the big leagues with the weight of a feature film: it won the Palme d'Or du court métrage in the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, and won Best Original Screenplay in the 1957 Oscars, the only short film to have accomplished that feat. The first time I saw this, it was in my film class in college sometime in 1998, and I was immediately drawn to this story of this most cherubic of boys [actually the director's son], a lonely, independent-minded kid who walks by his lonesome to and from school. One day, he discovers a red balloon on the streets. Untying it from where it's snared, he soon finds out that the balloon follows him wherever he goes, jumpstarting an uncanny friendship that gets tested in small and big ways -- always at the mercy of other people: an uncaring school principal, a scold of a church beadle, a whole neighborhood of rough boys intent on stealing the balloon for nefarious purposes. It leads to a heartbreaking coda, and which itself becomes a portal for the marvellous. To reveal that fantastic finish is to steal the film's best surprise, so I'm not going to detail that here. Suffice it to say that experiencing this film is a singular joy. It's pure cinema. In fact I use it as my introductory screening for my film appreciation class, because it primarily uses images to tell its story -- and since the "shot" is the basic vocabulary of film, it's useful as a tool for impressing on my students how image can be effectively used by great cinema not just to tell a story but also to define its artistry. This film is the exemplar, and I'm glad that it is still celebrated after all these years. What's the film?

For the introduction to this meme, read here.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich