If you’re a member of Generation X, more specifically, an early member of Generation X (born between 1964 and 1968), I’m fairly sure you’ve seen Albert Lamorisse‘s 1956 Palme d’Or winner Le Ballon rouge. Le Ballon rouge. A thirty five minute long, nearly silent film about a little boy (the director’s son Pascal Lamorisse) and his red balloon, Le Ballon rouge is a beautifully filmed technicolor ode to the now demolished (and probably hyper-gentrified) Belleville area of Paris.
I saw it (and was quizzed on it) in my Lutheran Sunday School in Cranford, New Jersey. Yes children, I never heard the words “abortion” or “homosexuality” in my liberal Protestant domination but I was exposed to classic French cinema. In any event, Le Ballon rouge has such an openly Christian message it’s basically a Christian allegory. The red balloon, the Holy Spirit, descends on the little boy the moment his soul awakens to the beauty of post-war, liberated Paris. For an agonizingly brief period of time, Pascal walks with Christ and Christ walks with him. Then the balloon is taken away by the ignorant masses before the Holy Spirit is resurrected in the form of, well, you’ll see if you watch the film.
François Truffaut hated Le Ballon rouge so much that his scathing review in Cahiers du Cinema was one of the things that got him banned from the Cannes Film Festival.
Writing for Les Cahiers du Cinema at the time Truffaut literally tore the film to shreds. Rather than regurgitating his entire article point for point let us summarize: Truffaut found the personification of the balloon to be its unpardonable sin. Where Truffaut was coming from was being one who preferred the fables of La Fontaine as opposed to the films of Disney. La Fontaine told the tales about animals without making them speak, without humanizing them in any way and what he felt Lamorisse had done was fall into the schmaltz of Disney.
Truffaut is partly just being a chauvinistic Frenchman resentful of the influence of American culture on France, but I also think he’s got a point. Even as a child, I found The Red Balloon a bit too precious and affected. I was more into John Wayne movies, which, sadly, they didn’t teach in my Sunday School. The Christian message is heavy handed and sentimental. Pascal Lamorisse can’t act (anybody who thinks children can’t act needs to watch “Room”). So I’ve always wondered. What would The Red Balloon be like if the hero of the movie were more like John Wayne or Clinton Eastwood, an ass kicking, red-blooded American red balloon and not some sissy French red balloon?
In 2000, a University of Southern California student named Gregg Rossen read my mind. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you The Revenge of the Red Balloon. It might not mean as much to you as it did to me if you didn’t see the original as a child, but holy shit did I think it was funny. I almost killed myself laughing.
Final Note: Albert Lamorisse also invented the game “Risk,” which was very popular with frat bros at Rutgers in the 1980s, most of whom probably saw The Red Balloon as children just like I did, and probably would have been just as surprised.