In my book, one of the best films ever is a 33-minute children's movie. La Ballon Rouge or The Red Balloon by French writer-director Albert Lamorisse was released in 1956 and has been loved by kids and film-buff grown-ups everywhere.
Half a century later, it is still the only short film to win an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Remarkable too... as there is hardly any dialogue. Most of what you'll hear in the movie is music interspersed with Paris street sounds.
Last weekend I gave my Sponge-Bob-watching kids their first dose of cinematic French-style magical realism. I was keeping my expectations in check. I mean, is 33 minutes of almost wordless French cinema going to keep a 5-year-old and 3-year-old engaged?
Well apparently, Lamorisse speaks the language of children. All he needs is gorgeous moving pictures to make us laugh, cry and feel for a 7-year-old boy and his balloon. They loved it. Bear had to look away during a chase scene. I can't watch this Ma! Chicha stayed riveted but was seething about the chasing street bullies. Here's some movie banter shared between brother and sister:
Chicha: I'll put them in a cave... (ominous pause) at night!
Bear: With no food!
Chicha: Then I'll bite them!
One cinema moment that made us all smile.
The Red Balloon is also the first short film to win the Palme d'Or at Cannes. From New York to Berlin to Tokyo it has won even more praises, but what's really great about it is that it will win praises from the little ones. I promise. You can watch the entire movie here courtesy of Google Video. Spare 33 minutes of your time, sit back and enjoy....
Just last year a remastered version was released. Available in Amazon, the DVD version is much better quality than the copy from Google Video. Lamorisse was a photographer before he started doing films and the art-gallery-picturesque scenes really jump out so much more in the DVD version.