A young Parisian boy finds a balloon and after being forced to let it go realises that it has a will of its own and an loyal attachment to him.
At the age of 35, top French bloke Albert Lamorisse invented the strategic board game Risk. While this may have ensured his place in the Board Game Hall Of Fame alongside Colonel Mustard, it pales into insignificance alongside Lamorisse’s 1956 achievement, The Red Balloon, still the only short film to win a Best Screenplay Oscar.
Some 54 years before Up, Lamorisse wrings cinematic gold out of the magical properties of balloons in a simple, affecting narrative. A little boy (Pascal Lamorisse, the director’s son) finds a red one tangled around a street lamp and befriends it, but is forced to let it go by his grandmother. Yet the balloon proves loyal and follows the nipper around the streets of Paris, from school to the shops to vacant play areas. And plot-wise — save a poignant, transcendental ending — that is pretty much it.
But, working three years before the arrival of the Nouvelle Vague, Lamorisse is infectiously playful, blending an on-the-streets realism with flashes of poetry and magic — how he makes the balloon move around corners and through windows without a pixel in sight is cinematic sleight of hand. Yet Lamorisse’s biggest trick is to make you feel for a kid’s plaything. By the time the balloon has taunted a school teacher, flirted with a little girl’s blue balloon and admired itself in the mirror, it’ll be right up there with Chewbacca as your favourite movie sidekick.
A legendary cinematic masterpiece, of course, but also a poignant and magical piece.