The Red Balloon (1956)


To view The Red Balloon click here.

I like to think of silent cinema as our very own Tower of Babel as built by our great grandfathers in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s. Most pre-talkies required only a few scant intertitles here and there to be translated into different languages before being exported around the world. Most of the information then being conveyed was done visually. Iconic giants like Charlie Chaplin traversed easily across cultural borders and became famous on a level that even today no Kardashian could hope to match. Once the talkies came around, that tower of pure visual language that so easily spoke to many cultures came crashing down.

There is something to be said for saying and showing less, thus creating a space where the imagination of either a child or adult could blossom without too much external manipulation. Manipulation which nowadays can be seen in blatant branding and obvious money-grabs at every juncture, be it for toys, meals, cable and/or subscription packages, clothes, bedding, tools, etc. – it’s an endless list.

A counterpoint to the aforementioned comes in the form of one of the greatest children’s films of all time, The Red Balloon (1956) directed by Albert Lamorisse. It’s a classic award-winning short movie just over a half-hour in length with very little dialogue and zero merchandising (unless you count the generic balloons you can find in most stores). And when I say award-winning I’m talking about top honors like an Oscar, a Palme d’Or, and many more top-shelf shout-outs from major cities around the world.


While visiting some friends during the occasion of a children’s birthday party last week, it was brought to my attention after a meal of pizza and donuts that the assembled parents would soon be marching the small troop of grade-school kids to a matinee of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017), which has grossed over $50 million as of this writing. Looking up The Red Balloon on IMDB there is no link for box office grosses at all since it was mostly seen on public TV. Still, I bet more children and adults have seen The Red Balloon than will ever watch Captain Underpants.

I don’t know anything about Captain Underpants other than what the parents confided, which was essentially that it was a popular collection of poop and fart jokes with just enough humor to appeal to adults, or at least enough that they would not kill themselves before the closing credits. I shouldn’t joke about death, and yet it is a central subject of The Red Balloon. Tragically, the director, Albert Lamorisse, died in an air crash at the age of 48 while on assignment in Teheran. For more Lamorisse click here.

A parting note that cribs from my previous post on The Red Balloon:

It’s probably fair to say that The Red Balloon traumatized quite a few kids, despite its (spoilers ahead) literally uplifting message… I have to admit that for me, as a kid, the slow, sweaty, deflating death of the red balloon was absolutely gut-wrenching, and this despite the ending that was meant to reassure kids that magic still exists. The stark horror and abject loneliness I felt from that film came back to haunt me with the death of my first cat. Lamorisse’s film (which stars his own son) was clearly meant to have an instructional value to children on the passing of a pet, and upon revisiting the film anew I noticed that it starts with a shot of the boy (Pascal Lamorisse) petting a passing cat just before descending into the Parisian streets. Others have also remarked about how the film was Lamorisse’s way of trying to reclaim some of the innocence he felt France lost when the country collaborated with the Nazi’s in WWII, and one can easily see how the bullies in The Red Balloon could represent Nazi aggression.

Pablo Kjolseth

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3 Responses The Red Balloon (1956)
Posted By Ken Adlam : June 25, 2017 10:55 am

Enjoyed your comments about a truly memorable film. For fans of Lamorisse, allow me to suggest a (also relatively silent) film which is one of my favorites and a Grand Prix winner, WHITE MANE.

Posted By Doug : June 25, 2017 1:06 pm

Haven’t seen “The Red Balloon” but in conversations with some of my age, I’ve seen the reaction when that film is mentioned. It touched something in them as kids which they still carry around.
One told me simply that he “Loved that movie.”.

Posted By mdr : June 25, 2017 3:53 pm

Haven’t seen “The Red Balloon” … knock yourself out;-)

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