To all of the readers who are writers- this one is for you.
THE WRITER’S RED BALLOON
One of my favorite short films, THE RED BALLOON (fr. Le Ballon rouge, directed by Albert Lamorisse), was recently re-released in the United States and if you have Comcast cable, you might be able to catch it ON DEMAND. (Not to be confused with FLIGHT OF THE RED BALLOON (fr. Le Voyage du ballon rouge), currently showing in Indy theaters and directed by the visionary artist Hou Hsiao-hsien. Hailed as an adaptation of the original film, FOTRB is, in my opinion, a sharp departure from the original.)
For those of you not familiar with THE RED BALLOON, the story unfolds as little Pascal journeys to school and along the way comes across a red balloon caught up in a lamppost. From the very first scene of this classic, we get to know this boy as he lovingly bends down to pet a mewing, stray cat in the war-ravaged streets of Paris. We are not surprised when Pascal climbs the post to free the balloon.
Of its own accord, the red balloon begins to follow the boy through the streets of post World War II Paris and the magical adventure that unfolds is breath-taking as the two companions, boy and balloon, traverse the cityscape. As beautiful as ever, this masterpiece still speaks eloquently to the higher self, to our dreams, to love, to friendship, to hope, to imagination, and to the power of faith.
Not bad for a thirty-four minute film with barely any dialogue.
In the years since I’ve last seen THE RED BALLOON, I have become a professional writer. Writers often live (and die) by dialogue. Entranced by a different perspective this go-around, I began to view the film as an allegory for the writer.
After all, as writers, we all have our red balloons, don’t we?
That special idea. That wisp of a tale that teases us along the edges of cognition and won’t let go. . . That playful balloon, laughing, coercingâ€“ a companion that follows us everywhere. (If you are a writer, your red balloon continually taunts you to come out and play, giving you no peace until you give in and “do” it.)
All of the sweet stories that writers hold dear become as alive and vibrant to them as the red balloon does for Pascal.
In the film, the boy and the balloon visit a flea market, viewing odd items (although none could be as odd as the pair). The balloon floats in front of a gilded mirror as if posing and laughing at itself all at once. A few adults smile, or ignore them; but the surrounding children watch the pair with envy. Throughout the course of the film, these children will eventually become a mob.
When the balloon tries to follow Pascal into his classroom, the stiff-necked teacher firmly puts it outside, ignoring its wonders and impossible potential. To a writer, this scene is a clear allusion to establishment rejection. (The notion that if it is outside the box, it will be put outside.) The person who should be inspiring Pascal, is, instead, sadly doing his best to strip away any sense of wonder. His grandmother also refuses to let the balloon in her house, promptly tossing it outside as it tries to follow Pascal in. Clearly, no family support for Pascal’s dream, either.
On the street, the red balloon becomes attracted to a little girl’s balloon and for a while all four hit it off famously. (Another truism: it takes a writer to grok another writer.)
Eventually, the mob of children catches Pascal and his balloon. Like a confederacy of dunces, the miniature pundits beat the balloon to death before Pascal’s horrified eyes. Caveat scriptor. Let the writer beware.
But all is not lost.
Even as Pascal mourns the terrible treatment and death of his red balloon, hundreds of balloons from all over the city come to him, lovingly surround him, and in one of the most magnificent, soul-stirring scenes on film, lift him into the air and carry him off.
So to every writer struggling to hold on to a visionâ€“
Remember Pascal and his red balloon.