Apr 5, 2008

8mm Red Balloon

It's been six days since the end of Orphans Six, so I thought I would continue to unwind by going to see what I will call a "movie," rather than an orphan film. The IFC Center (which was so good to Orphans in February) is showing Le Voyage du ballon rouge, director Hou Hsiao-hsien's French-language film (movie) shot in Paris.

The film-within-a-film trope went beyond the references to Albert Lamorisse's 1956 children's classic, The Red Balloon (which I'm sure I saw only on a black-and-white TV set when Kukla, Fran and Ollie introduced it on the CBS Children's Film Festival on a Saturday afternoon in 1967). Midway through Hou's movie, the mother of our boy-with-balloon protagonist gives his au pair, Song, several 8mm film reels and boxes. Song, a former student at the Beijing Film Academy, is taking film (read: video) production classes, so she is able to have the mother's home movies transferred to a DVD.

In a thoughtful move by Hou, we see the 8mm images only as the boy sees them. He watches them on a DVD player -- on the dashboard of his mother's car. She describes some scenes to him, while others she narrates in the voices of characters reminiscent of those at her puppet theater. The boy comments that he can not hear the soundtrack. His mother explains that 8mm films are silent.
"What's an 8mm film?" he asks.

Also to Hou's credit, these home movies are not depicted as full of scratches and jump-inducing splices. They look handsome. This jibes with the narrative, which suggests that mother shot this footage in the late 1990s, using a friend's 8mm movie camera.

Lord knows where she got it processed. (Switzerland perhaps.)

Final note: the publicity still of the rouge ballon and the Eiffel Tower reminds me, sadly, that I will not be having April in Paris as I had hoped. The International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) is convening its annual congress and symposium at the
Cinémathèque française, April 17-26, thanks to the organizers at the CNC (Centre National de la Cinématographie).

Since the theme of the symposium is "the legal protection of film works," I am even more bummed that my one-track mind (orphan films, orphan films, orphan films...) will not be in Paris this month.

-- dan