The Red Balloon (Le ballon rouge) is an interesting exception to a winning Best Original Screenplay in that it is a short film. Released in 1956, it is a French film by Albert Lamorisse, who both wrote and directed this delightful 34-minute classic. It also won the Palme d’Or for best short film at the Cannes Film Festival.
Nearly a silent movie with very little dialogue, it follows the adventures of a little boy, Pascal (Pascal Lamorisse) after he finds a red balloon. The balloon turns out to have magical powers, and follows the boy around the streets of Paris, to school, to his home, and to his childhood playgrounds. The red balloon is almost like a pet, loyal and faithful.
It is beautifully filmed, and the streets of Paris are as narrow and winding as I recall from when I visited this beautiful city. Being filmed in 1956, Paris appears to have not recovered from the war totally. There are lots of crumbling buildings around and vacant lots where boys challenge each other and carry on with their rough games and bullying.
We see Pascal and the red balloon head off to school, the little children joining him in the queue to enter the building, so cute in their school clothes, marching in with child size briefcases. Most of the boys are wearing shorts, and the girls sweet little dresses. There is magic in the air for certain wherever this balloon goes. The musical score nicely complements the adventures of Pascal and his red balloon.
The little boy, Pascal, is the son of the director and writer. His daughter Sabine also appeared in the movie. I imagine the streets where this was filmed now looks completely different some 50 years later.
The Red Balloon is the only short film to win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Why this was placed in with the full-length features that year is up for speculation. It was a groundbreaking film at the time, which is why I suppose it was included.
There are Academy Award categories for Live Action Short, Animated Short, and Documentary Short. They can be no longer than 40 minutes in length, including the credits (The Red Balloon was 34 minutes!). This year I was able to watch all three categories of nominated shorts at my local art cinema. I enjoyed them immensely, and I recommend you seek them out next year prior to the awards ceremony. They may be short, but tell a good story in as little as a few minutes. The creativity, skill, and talent that go into these short films amazes me.
It’s interesting that balloons are such a joy to so many children and even to adults. They’re colorful, light and airy, and with helium in them, they float to the ceiling. What is it about them that is so appealing to you? Perhaps you could share a story in the comments below about a favorite memory with balloons in your own life.