Short, sweet and truly sublime, "The Red Balloon," 52 years since it was shot on the rain-slicked cobblestones of Paris, remains one of the great children's films of all time.
Which means it's a great film for grown-ups, too.
The simple, almost wordless tale of a tiny boy - played with wide eyes and a bowl haircut by Pascal Lamorisse - "The Red Balloon" follows the pip-squeak Parisian as he clambers up a street lamp on the way to school and comes down with a big red balloon. Off the two go, inseparable. When the scowling headmaster tells the boy to leave his balloon outside, the balloon waits, bobbing in the air, like a faithful pup.
There's magic in Albert Lamorisse's 34-minute movie (yes, the filmmaker cast his son in the lead): Not just in the seemingly effortless verite street scenes, in the tricky technical aspects of having a brilliant Technicolor orb floating around, chasing buses and skulking down alleyways, but in the story itself.
"The Red Balloon" is a beautiful little meditation on childhood, on imagination literally taking flight. The story of Pascal and his balloon represents the longings of the young - and the not so young - to escape the mundane business of daily life, and find a way to transcend, transcend.
Showing with "The Red Balloon" is "White Mane," Lamorisse's 1953 black-and-white short, a stunningly shot tale of a boy and a horse, set in the desertlike dunes of the south of France. Both films are being presented in restored, newly struck prints. The combined running time is about 75 minutes.
The Red Balloon **** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Albert Lamorisse. With Pascal Lamorisse. Distributed by Janus Films. In French with subtitles (but virtually wordless).
Running time: 34 mins.
Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (nothing offensive)
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://go.philly.com/onmovies.