Le ballon rouge (1956), which is one of the most beloved films of all time, reminds me about the beauty of childhood. Directed by Albert Lamorisse, it is a fantasy film which won the Palme D’Or for short films and the Oscar for best original screenplay, along with many other awards. The message is so simple, but the film, almost entirely wordless, is one of the best examples of pure cinema, so artistic, visually powerful and beautifully shot that it won a special place in my heart.
On his way to school one morning, Pascal finds a stray red balloon. Soon a bond is created between the child and his new toy and they become inseparable. Pascal discovers the red balloon has a mind of its own and it follows him everywhere by its own will, waiting for him in the schoolyard, outside his bedroom, following him even inside the church, teasing him to make sure Pascal deserves its friendship. The red balloon becomes the best friend he doesn’t have and they attract the envy of the boys in the neighbouhood, who soon destroy it. The ending of the film is magical, when all the balloons in Paris gather and come to Pascal’s rescue, taking him on a fairy tale balloon ride over the city.
Le ballon rouge will lift up your spirit. Aren’t we all children at heart? I only hope that, in today’s world, children haven’t lost the innocence and joy of play.
“This is the first illustration (ed. note: the artist is referring to the illustration above) in a series of six watercolours that took me to an old and now demolished part of Belleville in Paris. The research for reinterpreting these was quite intensive and meant watching the movie so many times I honestly can’t remember the exact number. Searching for pictures from that time and area, identifying buildings and spaces and reconfiguring the streets and houses like a giant puzzle. I chose to focus more on the city itself because it somehow becomes a character too. Some buildings are invented, some are taken from the fragmented images that exist of the neighborhood from the late 1800s until the demolition in 1970, very little is taken directly from the movie itself. A fascinating topographic and architectural research that I plan to continue in other illustrations, unrelated to the movie itself.” Illustrator Irina Georgescu
The idea for these illustrations came to me precisely from this desire of celebrating and encouraging play and imagination. But the biggest source of inspiration was my son. He is now four, he loves books and has a vivid imagination. We have very limited cartoons screen time because we have insisted on, and he prefers, making up our own stories. Looking at the vast collection of film DVDs and Blu-ray’s in our home, he sometimes asks when he will be able to watch movies. There is quite a while until then, and I know I would like for him to read as many books as possible until he will be able to watch the movies based on them, as well as other films. In that same sense, I wanted these illustrations to play the role of a short story that would sparkle his imagination until the moment comes when he can watch the film.
My biggest thanks go to the artist who so beautifully brought this idea to life. Romanian-born Irina Georgescu, currently based in London, is an architect and illustrator (one of my very favourites) and from the moment we met we bonded over out mutual love of cinema and storytelling. She’s a craftsman, a dreamer, a visual poet and I know that the story she has envisioned is bound to fascinate children and grown-ups alike.