Who's in It:
Juliette Binoche, Simon Iteanu, Song Fang, Hippolyte Girardot, Louise Margolin
The Basics: A red balloon follows a little boy around Paris while his mother works as a puppeteer. Frazzled by the stresses of that profession, Mom hires a Taiwanese film student to be the boy's nanny. And if that sounds like not much of a plot, that's because it's the latest gentle, allusive movie from Chinese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien, a man who doesn't know the meaning of the word fast.
What's the Deal? You don't go to a movie like this unprepared. That's because Hou is so absolutely not Western in his approach that his films require that you rethink what you expect from your time watching a film. And this one, in particular, is based on the Academy Award-winning 1956 short film by Albert Lamorisse The Red Balloon. And though it's not really a remake, it takes that movie's childhood metaphors and reshapes them into a modern and quiet, like lots of Hou's movies take on family, loneliness and love.
Not Trying to Trick You Into Seeing a Boring Art Film, Promise: You will be subject to looooooong takes of people moving into and out of the frame, making sandwiches and performing other, sometimes sad, domestic tasks. But you'll also see a really directly emotional movie that refuses to cheat or manipulate you into caring. It quietly takes your hand and leads you at its own pace.
Count the Red Balloons. Or Not: They're all over the place. There's the one that follows the boy like in the original film; there's the one that's being created by the boy's film-student nanny; there's the nanny herself, who sort of takes on the balloon's role in the boy's life; and there are lots of visual references to the film on sides of buildings and in paintings. And yes, they add up, but they're less like heavy metaphors than they are guardian angels for the people below.