The Red Balloon is a French short film that was directed by Albert Lamorisse in 1956. This short film has won four awards: the 1956 Le Prix Louis Delluc, the Golden Palm Award for Best Short Film at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, the Specials Award in 1957 from BAFTA, and it was even good enough to flat out win the 1957 Oscar for Best Original Screenplay against the other, much longer films.
Color is very important in this short film, indeed if it was not I hardly think the word “Red” would be worth mentioning in the title. The short film opens up to what looks like a grayscale painting of a city, the building are tall and dark and loom over the little boy. The boy is so distracted by the sight of a such a bright object that he is compelled to climb the lamp post in order to acquire the balloon. The choice to put the balloon on the lamp post, helps add to the balloon’s symbolism. Lamp posts are providers of light, which is generally a symbolism of hope – and to find a red balloon in such a gray environment is akin to finding hope. Additionally, The Chronicles of Narnia were being published slightly before this time, and the lamp post there represents the connection point between the childhood world, and the real world, which helps as a wayfinding point for the children in that book find their ways back and forth between worlds. The balloon in this film, thus through its association with the lamp post assumes some of its characteristics as a transitional object between childhood imagination, innocence, and children’s untarnished view of the world, and the darker reality of the real world. This is also why the balloon is such a bright color, because as long as the boy has his balloon – his hope, his light, perhaps even a bit of his soul – he can exist in his childhood bubble without having to be tarnished by the drastically darker world around him.
Other occurrences of color include some of the children’s coats when they are let out of school, which are mostly reds or teals or blues, the traffic light when Pascal and the balloon must wait to cross the street, when Pascal passes the girl in white with her blue balloon and all the other balloons that come out of all the building to lift up Pascal at the end of the short film. This last bit, with all the balloon at the end is the most important of all of them. Various balloons of shapes and colors of other children fly away to where Pascal’s balloon has just been “killed” – an artistic device which look much like Toro Nagashi would look if it was done in the air rather than on water – and literally come to carry Pascal away. This could be a symbol for his lost innocence, or it could be the message that even if your innocence is killed, you should not forget it, as the magic it brings to your life is beyond limitations.
This point is further solidified by the places the boy cannot take the balloon – the commuter bus, the school, and the church. These are places that are institutions, and thus do not necessarily welcome the imaginative qualities of childhood, as it could undermine or “corrupt” the message they are trying to teach the children. When the balloon does enter into the school, it causes an uproar amongst the children as they all try to capture it (when the balloon enters the church Pascal must also leave and go back outside). The principle then locks Pascal in another room, and the balloon follows the man down the street and tries to attack him. The balloon is trying to get the man to see the value of childhood imagination, but the man will have none of it, and even calls Pascal and the balloon pests when he lets them leave. Though the sweeper man smiles as they pass by.
On the topic of other people that come into contact with the balloon other then Pascal, there is a division between those that want to steal the balloon to destroy it and those that help Pascal. The boys that want to steal Pascal’s balloon are the other grade school kids, and the principle that just wants the balloon an its “distracting” qualities to go away. The children want to destroy the balloon because it is different, because they themselves to not have it. Then as they manage to “kill” the balloon the audio track goes dead, mimicking the silence of a funeral. The people that are protective of Pascal’s balloon include the old man that is sweeping outside the school that holds onto the balloon for him, as well as a series of adults who let Pascal walk with them in the rain in order to keep the balloon safe.
There is also the little girl and her blue balloon who interact with Pascal and his red balloon, their balloons drift back and forth away from their respective owners and nudge the other balloon. This situation is important because it lets the audience know that Pascal is not the only one with a balloon, and that they come in various colors much like people have various personalities or traits.