Time-honored classic

'Balloon' aloft again at Cannes

More than 50 years after it won the Palme d'Or for best short film in Cannes, Albert Lamorisse's 34-minute children's classic "The Red Balloon" is making a return to the Croisette.

A restored copy of the 1956 film about a little boy who befriends a balloon with a life of its own in the streets of Paris will be screened on Saturday as part of the Directors' Fortnight sidebar. And the little boy himself — the director's son Pascal Lamorisse — will be on hand to promote the Oscar-winning picture.

Lamorisse junior was 5 at the time of the shoot. "I didn't have a very normal childhood. People recognized me and just wanted to talk about the film," he recounts.

Eschewing an acting career, Pascal Lamorisse worked as a technician on films and has directed an as-yet-unreleased movie. He also manages the rights to the films of his father, who died in a helicopter accident in 1970 while on a shoot in Iran.

"Red Balloon's" restoration has been undertaken in conjunction with its companion piece, "White Mane," Albert Lamorisse's black-and-white short from 1952 about a boy and a wild horse. French sales company Films Distribution spent more than $200,000 restoring the two films, to which it has acquired worldwide rights.

"It is a perfect double bill. The two together make up the length of a feature, and the sad tone of the first film is countered by the optimistic note in the second," Films Distribution co-chief Nicolas Brigaud-Robert says. Films Distribution says it will be insisting on a theatrical release as part of its sales strategy in Cannes. "The age of the films doesn't change what they are. When you see a Disney film from the 1950s, you don't dismiss it as just an old film," Brigaud-Robert says.

Having charmed several generations, "Red Balloon" continues to influence filmmakers today. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's "Flight of the Red Balloon" starring Juliette Binoche, which will open Cannes sidebar Un Certain Regard, is loosely inspired by Lamorisse's work.

"We programmed the restored copies before Hou Hsiao-Hsien's film was selected to open Un Certain Regard. So it falls nicely as an occasion to discover the inspiration for that film," says Olivier Pere, head of Directors' Fortnight.

Besides the rerelease of "Red Balloon" and "White Mane," Lamorisse is looking at a possible remake of the former destined for Imax theaters. "Its length is just about right for the format," he says.

As if to underline that "Red Balloon" can still speak to the young of today's generation, Lamorisse's daughter Lysa will introduce the film in Cannes on Saturday, which just happens to be her 10th birthday. What better present than to see grandpa's oeuvre restored to its full glory?