Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge)

Published: Friday, June 13 2008 11:25 a.m. MDT

Simon Iteanu as Simon and Juliette Binoche as Suzanne in "Flight of the Red Balloon."

Tsai Cheng-Tai, IFC Films

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FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (LE VOYAGE DU BALLON ROUGE) — ** — Juliette Binoche, Song Fang, Simon Iteanu; with English subtitles (European and Asian dialects); not rated, probable PG (profanity, slurs)

As far as ideas for classic movie remakes, "re-imaginings" and such are concerned, "Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge)" is far from the worst of them.

For example, it doesn't even come close to the moronic depths of something like Gus Van Sant's pointless, shot-for-shot "re-envisioning" of Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 thriller "Psycho."

That being said, the slow-moving "Red Balloon" really doesn't stack up favorably with its obvious inspiration, the delightful 1956 short fantasy "The Red Balloon," which won a Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

It doesn't help that this version is full-length, nearly two full hours, in fact. And unlike the earlier movie, this one lacks the necessary magic and is a little uninvolving.

But like French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse's beloved fantasy tale, co-screenwriter/director Hou Hsiao Hsien begins his with some interaction between a young boy and a balloon that acts in almost mischievous, or "human," fashion.

The young boy is Simon (Simon Iteanu), whose mother, Suzanne (Juliette Binoche), is a professional puppeteer. She is trying to balance single motherhood and a career, but faces a number of challenges with both.

During the day, Simon has a baby sitter, a hardworking student and translator named Song (Song Fang). It turns out she and some of her classmates are actually making their own homage to the earlier movie.

Hou's expanded feature is filled with scenes that would normally be cut from most films — the so-called "interstitial" ones. (In one sequence, Suzanne tries to find ways to evict a deadbeat tenant while in another one, Song makes pancakes for her and Simon.)

And bizarrely, little of the puppetry bits are shown. Still, Hou and cinematographer Lee Pin Bing do capture some lovely glimpses of Paris, and the cast is good.

However, the normally lovely Binoche is forced to wear an unflattering, bleached-blonde haircut that makes it hard to take her and the character seriously.

"Flight of the Red Balloon (Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge)" is not rated but would probably receive a PG for some scattered profanity and a few derogatory slurs. Running time: 113 minutes.


E-mail: jeff@desnews.com

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