Filled with a vaporous dreaminess that is the essence of kids’ everyday thoughts, these two French bonbons from the ’50s speak a quiet, private language to the young. (They can also have an effect on certain critics.) The Red Balloon, set in a slate-gray Paris, makes the yearning for companionship fantastically vivid, via a sentient helium balloon bopping behind a proud preteen. White Mane is also a boy’s story: A young fisherman pushes aside his mop of blond hair to spy a gorgeous wild horse sporting virtually the same ’do. Naturally, a bareback ride is in his future.
Criterion’s long-awaited DVDs of these films by director Albert Lamorisse (as well as his 1966 Paddle to the Sea, also on sale this week) lack extra features, so all three films could easily have fit on one disc (at least the individual DVDs are far cheaper than most Criterion releases). Who was Lamorisse? He died too young, at 48, in an on-location helicopter crash. Before then, Lamorisse mastered the short form, fathered a beautiful son (the confident star of Red Balloon) and—as if that weren’t enough—invented the board game Risk. He won critics’ prizes in a moment before French cinema meant Truffaut and Godard; the wistfulness of these shorts will taste saccharine to cynics. But don’t discount a subtle defiance: These are films in which imagination conquers all, including the adult world. Heroes float away on the wind or the sea. Children need to feel that power, in order to properly grow into it.