This 1956 film (winner of the Palme d’Or for Best Short Film) is absolutely delightful and precious. The little boy’s mannerisms and interactions with his ‘pet’ balloon are a joy to watch. The director is especially skilled at ascribing anthropomorphic qualities to the balloon, which displays different emotions- playfulness, attachment, distress etc. It’s as if the balloon takes on a life of its own when the boy unties it from a lamp.
I feel that there are subtle undercurrents of social commentary, especially on the role of school and authority. Authority figures (teachers, an elderly woman who’s the boy’s primary caretaker) display a tendency to confine children and separate them from the external world by shutting doors or windows, thereby estranging the boy from his balloon. To me, the balloon with its vivid hue represents that special quality inherent in every child- perhaps a curiousness and sense of wonder. The fact that the boy is the only one among his boorish male peers to have a balloon is very telling.
His solitary walks about the streets of Paris also set him apart as a unique, intelligent, sensitive child, whereas being confined in classrooms has manifested in bad behaviour among most of his male classmates. When he encounters another girl with a blue balloon, I think it’s a sign of a kindred spirit. Finally, when his balloon deflates after being attacked by the gang of boys, the balloons in the city of every colour drift towards him. Floating in the air, he is carried away in an unforgettable ending shot.