So Café Lumiere (from 2003, one of HHH’s strongest efforts) was an outward homage to Ozu while still staying true to Hou’s voice and brand as an auteur himself— this is much the same with a nod to Lamorisse’s 1956 short film The Red Balloon – these two films (both superb) are companion pieces
Long takes for HHH- a stylistic indicator for HHH- starts with one here that’s like the plastic bag scene from American Beauty (1999) from Sam Mendes as we follow the red balloon
HHH’s other trademark is being able to beautifully set the mise-en-scene and this film has it in abundance—8 minutes in we have a great shot of a red door, red garbage, red artwork on both sides of the door. The color choices are clear in the film’s title but it’s not just the balloon- it’s much more– it’s believable production color scheme design throughout the mise-en-scene like Kieslowski’s colour trilogy (Binoche- the star here also stars in Kieslowski’s Blue of course)
Binoche’s character’s job is the voice for puppets—a nod to HHH’s 1993 film
HHH acknowledges the Lamorisse film in the text as a reference and in a dedication
The red stop light reflected off the window while playing pinball is a stunner
Another stunner is the red window drapes, red towel, at different depths—again- like Ozu HHH is a master at setting a frame
Items in the color design in abundance—lamp, her dress, a purse dangling – composed so beautifully
The tranquil positive nanny creates a 21st century new nuclear family to take care of Binoche (who is a frantic mess, flawed)’s son and create a home. Thank god for her
HHH is making comments on generations here and the types of people that won’t stop and notice the beauty of the balloon. The kid is playing PlayStation often. The characters in HHH’s Millennium Mambo would not notice the balloon, the characters after the death of the patriarch in A Time to Live and a Time to Die when their society crumbles would not notice the balloon. Late in the film, at the end, the young boy sees the balloon finally because of the guidance and care of the nanny. It’s sweet- rewarding.
Binoche is one of cinema’s all-time great actresses and she’s terrific here overall- but the long scenes of her wailing doing the high-pitched puppet voices are a tough hang.
It’s not quite on the level of Café Lumiere with the mise-en-scene masterly but there are a ton of great frame set-ups in the apartment. For all of those great shots, there are still some weaker moments like the long take of Binoche on the phone in her car- just does nothing for the film
Reoccurring shot of dining room table with kitchen off to right depth of field. Daughter of Nile (1987 from HHH) has the same thing—mark of an auteur
Traits of HHH- no close-ups medium shots
No editing within a scene. There are realism elements- plants the camera