Blurring the line between the earthly and the sublime, French director Albert Lamorisse’s works often show his characters, both children and animals, transcending the physical limitations of the world. Such is 1956’s The Red Balloon, a charming, whimsical, if slight story with beautiful views of Paris, France.

Pascal Lamorisse (son of the director) stars as a six-year-old who, on his way to school comes upon a red balloon wrapped around a lamppost. Freeing it from its tangle, the balloon follows him as he traipses around Paris, seemingly with a mind of its own. To the tram and then to school and then back home, the balloon follows him like a loyal puppy. At school, the other kids are impressed with Pascal’s new friend. the balloon likes them too, but not as much as he likes the boy. The balloon finds itself not welcome in many places, but Pascal preserves and continues to rescue his new friend. soon enough, Pascal discovers he doesn’t even have to hold the balloon. It follows him wherever he goes and resists the efforts of others to take it away from Pascal. Such devotion results in the jealousy of others who decry the relationship between a boy and his balloon.

Winner of the Palme d’Or Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, the Oscar win is more amazing when you consider how little dialogue there is. Lamorisse’s direction is superb, staging a series of interactions between the boy, balloon, and others. Casting his son as the young boy was a stroke of genius. He delivers a memorable performance; his obvious chemistry with the balloon is what makes the film so special.

Like The Red Balloon, 1953’s White Mane is a beautiful, yet stark. It is about a young boy, Folco (Alain Emery), who lives in the Camarque region in the South of France, where he befriends a white-haired wild horse. Like The Red Balloon, there friendship is tested by outside forces, this time by a group of trappers.

Action packed, its filmed in bright black and white, White Mane is bleaker than The Red Balloon, emphasized in scenes like where two horses fight for dominance. Even so, White Mane can be strikingly beautiful, as in its long chase scenes through the marsh, where the horses run free with not a care in the world. The specter of capture looms large, giving the proceedings a real sense of urgency.

Made in 1951, Bim, the Little Donkey is Lamorisse’s first narrative film. Filmed off the coast of Tunisia on the island of Djerba, it tells the story of a poor boy named Abdallah and his pet donkey, Bim. Every child on the sun-drenched island seems to have their own long eared companion, but the relationship between Abdallah and Bim is clearly very special. The donkey is taken a rich, spoiled boy who torments the animal by painting him, dressing him up in clothes, throwing him in the pool and threatening to cut his ears off. Determined to get Bim back, Abdallah mounts a rescue attempt.

Revisiting the themes of freedom versus capture, Lamorisse’s black and white photography is no less stunning than in White Mane. I saw this film (along with The Red Balloon) in second or third grade and have never forgotten it. At the end, when Abdallah gets his friend back, is no less emotional for me now than it was as a child.

Following the international triumph of The Red Balloon, Albert Lamorisse embarked on creating feature-length movies with a similar visual emphasis seen in his short films. Once again using flight as a means of escaping the banality of everyday life, Stowaway in the Sky and Circus Angel. while the later leans into sentimentality and dated humor to merit its 77 minute runtime—a young boy affixed with wings to become a circus attraction— Stowaway in the Sky see’s the welcome return of Pascal (The Red Balloon), this time as a stowaway aboard his inventor grandfather’s hot air balloon.

Always a photographer, Lamorisse invented a device that stabilized cameras in helicopters, and that he used for Stowaway in the Sky. Nearly sixty years later, the sense of wonder he no doubt wanted to create, is as wondrous as ever.

Helped by its popularity in schools, its little wonder that The Red Balloon became “the largest-selling non-theatrical print in American history.” Thanks to Criterion, its now available on a two-disc Blu-ray set that allows for deeper exploration into Albert Lamorisse’s filmography.

All five transfers in the Criterion Collection’s two-disc set are from recent restorations—4K for The Red Balloon and White Mane and 2K for the rest—the results are wonderful. The colors in The Red Balloon simply pop. I’ve never seen a balloon as red as the one in this film. the black and white photography, particularly in White Mane, is breathtaking. The contrast is striking throughout, with inky blacks and clean whites. All the films are rich in detail. There are no image flaws. As for the audio, the dialogue is clean, with a strong separation between atmospherics.

English and English SDH subtitles are available.

The following extras are included:

  • S. English-language version of Bim, the Little Donkey
  • New interview with actor Pascal Lamorisse, director Albert Lamorisse’s son
  • My Father Was a Red Balloon, a 2008 documentary featuring Pascal Lamorisse and his daughter Lysa
  • French television interviews with Albert Lamorisse from 1957 and 1959
  • English narrations for White Mane, by Peter Strauss, and Stowaway in the Sky,by Jack Lemmon
  • English-dubbed track for Circus Angel
  • New English subtitle translation and English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
  • An essay by critic David Cairns

Get your copy of The Red Balloon and Other Stories – Five Films by Albert Lamorisse here!

The Red Balloon and Other Stories : Five Films by Albert Lamorisse (1951-65)
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