Flight of the Red Balloon

Movie review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
Flight of the Red Balloon Movie Poster Image
Beautifully shot art-house drama won't interest young kids.
  • NR
  • 2008
  • 114 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The themes of the movie are about the importance of family, art, and city life.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although the absentee father is a negative role model, Suzanne is a loving single mother who's realistically frazzled at trying to juggle the work-life balance. Her dedication to her son and her career is refreshing to see on film. Song is a caring nanny who allows Simon to explore his artistic side.


Discussion of marriage and relationships but nothing overtly sexual.


Subtitled language includes "bitch," "s--t," "idiot," and "stupid."

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Not surprisingly, since this is a French film, adults smoke cigarettes fairly regularly and drink wine with meals.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this French-language film will not appeal to kids who aren't ready to read subtitles during movies. Families with foreign-film-savvy children should know that this one includes some mature themes about family make-up (single mother, absentee father, full-time nanny), relationships, and urban life. There's no violence or consumerism, but a few French profanities are translated into the subtitles ("s--t" is the most frequent culprit). Unsurprisingly, some adult characters smoke and drink wine.

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What's the story?

Parisian puppet theater actress Suzanne (Juliette Binoche) is a harried single mother, so she hires a new babysitter named Song (Song Fang) to watch over her young son Simon (Simon Iteanu). While Suzanne juggles her professional ambition with her obligations as a landlord, and more importantly, as a mother, Song and Simon bond. The nanny and her charge use a video camera to capture their everyday treks around Paris, and notice a red balloon is often floating just above their heads.

Is it any good?

With gorgeous cinematography, spare dialogue, and untraditional plot (nothing much happens), Chinese director Hsiao-hsien Hou's French-language film is definitely an art-house cinema's dream. The luscious camera work alone is worth the rental price, but the plot is a bit too thin for most American audiences used to action-driven fare.

More of a tribute to than a remake of the classic 1956 French film The Red Balloon, Hou's version focuses less on the ever-presence of the flying balloon and more on the keenly observant eyes of Simon and Song. Families interested in introducing their children to the delight of foreign films should start with the original and leave this one until their teenagers are true cineastes.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the movie's artful depiction of life in France, puppetry, and photography/filmmaking.

  • The mother's regular smoking could be framed within the context of European culture versus the United States' increasing "no smoking" culture. What are the cultural differences and similarities between life in France and life in the United States?

  • How is the son's absent father depicted? How is this unconventional family portrayed?

  • What do you think the red balloon symbolizes in the film?

Movie details

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