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Critic wrangle: “The Flight of the Red Balloon.”

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04042008_flightoftheredballoon.jpgHou Hsiao-hsien’s first film outside of Asia, the luminous “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” uses Albert Lamorisse’s 1956 children’s short “The Red Balloon” as a counterpoint to its scarce story of a frazzled Parisian single mother (Juliette Binoche) navigating personal troubles, a career in puppetry and the raising of her seven-year-old son with the help of the Chinese film student (Song Fang) she’s hired as a nanny. My review from Cannes last year (written before the film was acquired by our sister company IFC Films) is here.

I love “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” and so do most of the critics, but I feel like the heady words of praise that are being heaped on it merit a word of caution — “Flight”‘s a delicate as a soap bubble, with about as weighty a narrative pull. As with most all of Hou’s films, it needs patience and, really, to be watched in a theater. Still, as Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir wrote from Cannes last year: “Several people walked out of the premiere and I can only assume they were bored by this stuff. I’m not so naive as to think there’s a large audience for Hou’s films in America (or anywhere else, really). But ‘The Flight of the Red Balloon’ is not arty or difficult in any way, and I genuinely believe that, in its unassuming fashion, it’s a masterpiece.”

“In the end what elevates Mr. Hou’s films to the sublime — and this one comes close at times — are not the stories but their telling,” writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. David Edelstein at New York find that Hou “uses The Red Balloon as a springboard for his own masterpiece–a distinctively modern and allusive one, yet so tender and plaintive that you understand what Hou is up to on a preconscious level.” The Village Voice‘s J. Hoberman, in a particularly nice review, observes that “Flight of the Red Balloon is explicitly an outsider’s movie, full of odd perspectives and founded on dislocation,” concluding that the film “is in a class by itself. In its unexpected rhythms and visual surprises, its structural innovations and experimental perfs, its creative misunderstandings and its outré syntheses, this is a movie of genius.” Glenn Kenny at Premiere seconds the “genius” designation while adding that “This is a slice of life that implies so much more than what’s on its surface, something that today’s conventional narrative films are increasingly hard-pressed to even attempt.”

Michael Koresky at Reverse Shot commends that way that, despite Binoche’s star turn, the film “remains a story of childhood, not with bullies to overcome and rites of passage to traverse, but with the fleetingly beautiful moments caught in a haze of everyday routine.” Slant‘s Nick Schager commends its star: “At once commanding and vulnerable, Binoche is a revelation, dominating space in ways ultimately almost as masterful as her director.”

And a few words of dissent (or, at least, of grounding) amidst all this acclaim: Jonathan Rosenbaum at the Chicago Reader deemed “The Flight of the Red Balloon” a “relatively slight but sturdy work,” while the Onion AV Club‘s Scott Tobias writes that the film feels “impeccably slight, as if Hou were resigned to playing a tourist in his own movie,” allowing that it “disappoints more in context with his career than as a standalone piece.” And for Armond White at the New York Press, the problem with the film is that “Hou lacks the common touch.” While he declares that the film “never penetrates child and pop consciousness,” he does praise Binoche, who “pinpoints emotion across Hou’s undifferentiated compositions.”

[Photo: “The Flight of the Red Balloon,” IFC Films, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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