The Red Balloon/White Mane (Red Envelope Entertainment/Janus Films, NR)

film_redballoon_sm.jpgThe Red Balloon and White Mane were meant to charm, and they sure do a good job of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hopefully, if you had a well-rounded childhood that didn’t solely consist of Transformers and My Little Pony, you encountered Albert Lamorisse’s Oscar-winning short The Red Balloon. You know, that movie in which the cute little French boy befriends a lifelike red balloon. Well, if you didn’t, here’s your chance to see it, beautifully restored, along with Lamorisse’s companion short White Mane, this one about a cute little French boy who befriends a horse instead.

film_whitemane.jpgOn more than just surface level, The Red Balloon and White Mane are pretty much the exact same film with a different outlet for the youth to imagine and, thus, have his poor dreams crushed. In White Mane, which begins the double feature, a provincial boy who looks like Victoria Beckham crushes hard on the titular stallion, a stubborn cheval who’s also garnered the attention of a bunch of herding cowboys who wish to stifle his freedom. White Mane is magical realism in full effect, best realized in a sequence where White Mane wrestles with the horse who took the place as leader of the pack in his absence and in the final, haunting image of the film. Marred by unnecessary English narration, White Mane would have succeeded beautifully without such interference.

In The Red Balloon, a young boy, played by the director’s son Pascal, meets a sassy red balloon that becomes his only friend. The boy takes the balloon around the streets of Paris until giving it the cold shoulder, thus creating a longing within the balloon. Naturally, a bunch of hooligan brats spot the balloon and gang together in order to steal it from little Pascal and, inevitably, pop the poor thing.

 Lamorisse employs personification as well as the more renowned Bresson did with that sad donkey in Au hasard Balthazar. It’s not until the conflict between the boy and his new friend versus the cruel world that you realize how much those creatures really got to you. What’s illuminating in revisiting these children’s classics is how layered the criticism of the world Lamorisse created truly is. It’s a sad state of affairs when a young boy can only relate to beings outside of his species, but Lamorisse’s perspective is marvelous. The two boys, Posh and Pascal, don’t get off the hook for their childish precociousness (unlike Louis Malle’s endlessly irritating Zazie dans le métro, made a few years later). There’s a jolting moment in White Mane where the boy, riding atop his trusty new friend, chases around a small rabbit across the sand. It mirrors the hypnotizing battle between the two horses but appears benign in its playful harmony of nature. The scene cuts immediately to the boy cooking up that rabbit for dinner. In The Red Balloon, it’s easy to miss as a child how much of an asshole Pascal really is to his trusty balloon. In one of maybe five lines of dialogue in the film, he scolds the balloon, telling him to stay put, as if mimicking the gestures of one of his great oppositions: the adult world.

Still, you don’t have to take everything so seriously. The Red Balloon and White Mane were meant to charm, and they sure do a good job of it. However, they might also serve as cautionary tales of youthful imagination run wild. Like that final shot in The Graduate that looked blissful until you were old enough to pay attention, be weary of what may appear joyous to a lonely child. | Joe Bowman

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