The Red Ballon (Le Ballon Rouge) 1956

Director: Albert Lamorisse

Screenplay: Albert Lamorisse

Score: Maurice Le Roux

Cast: Pascal Lamorisse, Georges Sellier, Edward Auerbach, Vladimir Popov

Released: 19 October 1956 (France)

Runtime: 35 minutes

Country: France

The Red Ballon (Le Ballon Rouge) is a charming  short film shot in 1955 with minimal dialogue about a boy who is befriended by a red ballon. Filmed in the Parisienne suburbs, this a beautiful lyrical tale of a young boy who literally pursuers and befriends a large red balloon who follows him around I first saw this film as a young child in primary school during s mornings television session watching a programme called Picturebox. In the 70’s the only morning television during the week was  a series of educational programmes for ‘Schools and Colleges’ Picturebox was a half  hour programme that screened stories, this is where I first saw The Red Ballon.

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A short while later the film was screened on the newly created Channel 4 company as it became spectacle of many afternoon screening. I never made effort to record the film on to a VHS tape so after a while the film faded from memory but not enough that  I still remembered the actual red ballon itself.

The story which has a whimsical musical score but almost no dialogue, tells of of a young boy in a Parisian suburb called Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse), who, on his way to school one morning, discovers a large helium-filled, red balloon dangling out of camera shot on a lamp post. As Pascal plays with his new found toy, he realizes the ballon has a mind and will of its own. It begins to follow him wherever he goes, even floating outside his bedroom window, as his grandmother will not allow it in their apartment.

The balloon follows Pascal through the streets of Paris, and they draw inquisitive looks from adults and the envy of other children as they wander the streets. At one point it enters his classroom, causing an uproar from his classmates. The noise alerts the principal, who becomes angry with him and locks him up in his office until school is over. At another, he and the balloon encounter a little girl (Sabine Lamorisse) with a blue one that also seems to have a mind of its own too, as evidenced by its act of following his.One Sunday, the balloon is told to stay home, while Pascal and his grandmother go to church. However, the balloon follows them, through the open window, into the church; Pascal and his grandmother are led out by a scolding beadle.

In their wanderings around the neighbourhood, Pascal and the balloon encounter a gang of older boys, who are envious of him, and temporarily steal the balloon, while Pascal is inside a bakery, however, Pascal retrieves it, and following a chase through the narrow alleys, they throw stones at the balloon, and they soon destroy it with slingshots.The film ends as all the other balloons in Paris come to Pascal’s aid and take him on a ride over the city.

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This is a beautifully produced tale which benefits from it’s short running time as so much story telling is crammed into such a small running time. The score by composer Maurice Le Roux is a fantastic accompaniment to the movie, guiding the viewer wordlessly through each and every scene, evoking the feeling of the characters and the very impatient Red Ballon, many soundtracks try to evoke moods and expectations throughout the movie, this score surpasses that and adds so much to the colourful imagery on screen.

After so many years of not being able to watch The Red Ballon, fate intervened in the hand of a ‘flash sale’ by Network Distributions, who had released the film in an immaculate Blu Ray release with a re-mastered edition of the film and varied extras including the special effects used during the filming and an interview with the now adult lead actor. I have fallen back in love with this little film after so many years and I regard it as a little, sentimental masterpiece that transcends both cultural and time boundaries to be a virtual classic. Seek out a copy to watch, or try and catch a run at the Cinema, I think you might agree with me….

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