One of the small but distinct pleasures in watching a foreign feature film is the insight afforded into the way people in other countries live. It is intriguing to see what constitutes a crisis, bad manners, a social gaffe, or acceptable behaviour and how the philosophy of a nation as a whole impacts on its people's lives.
The Flight of the Red Balloon is just such a treat. Although set entirely in Paris, it is seen through the eyes of an award-winning Taiwanese director, so adding a further dimension of perspective.
The Flight of the Red Balloon is inspired by Albert Lamorisse's classic 1956 masterpiece about the bond between a lonely 7-year-old boy and his red balloon, which develops a whimsical character of its own, following its young master all around Paris.
In this film another small boy is monitored by a mysterious red balloon, but the contact is more oblique and often not even recognised by the young protagonist. The balloon's aerial view provides a metaphor through which to witness scenes in the boy's daily life in a Paris apartment while his mother, superbly played by Juliette Binoche, tries to cope with her career and his needs with the help of a Taiwanese au pair and various visitors.
Although the storyline is slim, the unobtrusive and meticulous observation of a family life is a delight, and a welcome respite from the three act driven narratives of conventional films.