Truth comes from the mouths of babes — or rather kids, or young adults, or the future of humanity. Whatever you label them, these pint-sized pulse-takers of youth culture are back this summer with their own reviews of movies for young viewers screening every Wednesday at the Chilmark Community Center.
The organizers of the Summer Film Series at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival teamed up with the Gazette to bring you reviews by Island kids, here for the summer or year-round, each Tuesday, before each Wednesday film presentation.
Today, David Merkel, 12, looks at two classic films by director Albert Lamorisse — The Red Balloon and White Mane — both selected by tonight’s special guest at the festival, New York Times film critic A.O. Scott (see below). The kids’ films begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Chilmark Community Center.
The Red Balloon, 1956, directed by Albert Lamorisse; 34 minutes.
The Red Balloon is a charming, mostly silent film. It is extraordinary how much meaning, emotion, detail and clarity the film possesses without dialogue. The film opens with a little French boy, no older than 6, who stumbles across a red balloon tied to a lamppost. The boys climbs the lamppost, brings the balloon down in his teeth, and the journey begins.
After a series of tests, the boy begins to trust that the balloon is a loyal companion. The balloon follows the boy everywhere, occasionally teasing him, waiting patiently for him after school, even following him into church. Other neighborhood boys spot the balloon. Some wish to destroy it, others to keep it for themselves. The kids ambush the boy and his balloon. The ending has to be seen to be believed. It is magnificent.
The setting of the film is perfect; a working class village somewhere in France. The clustered buildings and narrow passageways make for suspenseful and exciting chase scenes. The soundtrack fits. Everything meshes together masterfully and makes up for the lack of talk. The few words spoken (mostly directed by the boy to the balloon) break the silence to make the action seem more real.
The Red Balloon will be enjoyed by all ages. It is timeless — all in all a great film.
White Mane, 1953, directed by Albert Lamorisse; 40 minutes.
Before Mr. Lamorisse made the Red Balloon, he made White Mane. White Mane is a story with a similar theme: as in the Red Balloon, a boy becomes strongly attached to something that is not human. In White Mane, the first thing you see is a young boy fisherman, modestly dressed, guiding his boat through the marshes. You are made to believe that Franco is just getting by. Franco spots a wild horse being pursued by cruel wranglers who are determined to capture and tame it. The boy instantly falls in love with the spirited horse, named White Mane.
In the movie, the narrator tells us that the wranglers want to capture the horse to show the horse that men are “always the strongest.” This is all they want White Mane for. The boy, on the other hand, does not wish to harm the horse, but rather befriend it. After the wranglers fail to capture White Mane, and White Mane attacks them, they tell the young boy that if he can capture the horse, he can have it. The boy tries to catch the horse, and after some very rough, life-threatening incidents, he succeeds. But the wranglers prove to be dishonest. They attempt to steal the horse from the boy. Not to give away anything, the ending is a sad one and shows how much the boy loves the horse, and the bad things that can happen when adults betray a child.
It is interesting to note that in both films, the filmmaker’s son is featured. In White Mane, he is the little brother, and in The Red Balloon, he is Pascal. Also, the filmmaker invented Risk, the game of global domination.
After The Red Balloon and White Mane, there will be Scottish Bakehouse meals made with local ingredients available and live music in a series curated by Colin Ruel from 7 to 8 p.m.
At 8 p.m. the festival hosts New York Times lead film critic A.O. Scott for The Critic’s Picks. As guest programmer for the evening, Mr. Scott has selected The Edge of Heaven, a 2007 film directed by Fatih Akin, made in Germany and Turkey, with English subtitles.
In it, the lives of six people living in Bremen and Istanbul, including a university professor, a prostitute and a political activist, become intertwined in a search for love, home and family. Akin fashions a complex emotional tale of separation and reconciliation, in which Europe’s disappearing borders bring people together in random, dangerous and sometimes fatal ways.
After the 116-minute film, Mr. Scott will take questions on film criticism, the industry and anything else you’d like to ask.
Admission is $10, or $7 for center members; $5 for festival members.