I remember as a child being fascinated by silent passages in movies. I am still to this day intrigued by completely visual film making. I think this all started with French director Albert Lamorisse's sweet 1956 masterpiece The Red Balloon. It was shown throughout American elementary schools from the 60's to the early 90's (and should still be shown to kids today, if you ask me), and I was one of the many children that the movie made a huge impression on. It's the story of a young kid, played by the director's son Pascal, who finds a balloon caught on a light post on his walk to school. He frees it and soon finds out the balloon has a mind of its own, which it uses to follow him to school and play games with him and be the friend that he so desperately needs.
Of course, one of the calling cards of the movie is its script. It won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, despite having lines of dialog in the single digits. It's nearly silent (and could've been completely had Lamorisse wanted to do so), and is all the more magical for it. It's a simple movie, but one that plays to our recollections of childhood and the feelings of finding a new friend. My favorite sequence is the one in which Pascal and the balloon walk past a little girl carrying a blue balloon, causing the balloon to do its version of a double take, getting a little crush on the pretty blue balloon. However, the movie also doesn't let us forget that bullies exist in our world, as Pascal runs through the streets of Paris with the balloon as a big group of jealous kids seek to take it away from him. But a perfectly wonderful and uplifting ending gives us hope and a childlike glee in our hearts.
So, The Red Balloon is one of the great gifts of cinema. I've been meaning to revisit it for a while, ever since I saw Hou Hsiao-Hsien's homage The Flight of the Red Balloon with Juliette Binoche, about a year ago. I finally made it back to the original, and am glad I did. Its magic realism and understated brilliance will keep me coming back to it over and over again through the years. It gives me that wonderful fuzzy feeling inside that you just get from so few movies. Or, as critic Owen Gleiberman so wonderfully put it, "More than any other children's film, The Red Balloon turns me into a kid again whenever I see it...to see The Red Balloon is to laugh, and cry, at the impossible joy of being a child again."