White Mane and The Red Balloon

On Thursday, my husband picked up a flier at school for two classic French films to be screened at the Journal Square Loews. He offered to stay home during the toddler’s nap so that the big girl and I could go.

As the kids say, OMG! I have never been to a theater like that before: decrepit it may be, but it was never wrecked and it is huge, ornate, and just crying out for its restoration to continue. The oval-shaped lobby has marble floors and columns and a balcony. The theater itself is amazingly high-ceilinged with a balcony. The pipe organ is fully restored, ivory with gilt and red accents.

And then an organist played, starting the show off with a sing-along to “Take me out to the ballgame,” “Bob the Builder” and other preschool favorites. The retirees in the audience joined in with gusto, though I would have preferred a hipper mix of tunes. Still, it was festive and very homey.

I had never seen “White Mane” (1953) before. Like “The Red Balloon,” it has very little dialogue and all is translated by the English narrator, Peter Strauss. It’s a black and white film about a gorgeous wild horse in the South of France, where the Rhone meets the sea. The horse, the head of his pack, is the target of wranglers (French cowboys! in flat-topped hats, ascots, and velvet jackets!) and beloved by a young boy.

My daughter was disappointed that the movie was “gray” and didn’t have any talking, but once her plaints were voiced, she was riveted. The story is amazingly poignant: the horse who cannot remain wild, but chooses to be tamed by the kind boy rather than the greedy wranglers and the ending is riveting, disturbing, and moving. As the boy and the horse ride out to sea, gradually sinking beneath the waves, the narrator announced that they were going off to a land in which horses and boys could be friends together forever…

As I already knew (and knew that “The Red Balloon” would confirm), it’s tough to be a child in post-war France. Best just to float away--on the waves or in a gorgeous hammock of balloons.

Oh, “The Red Balloon.” It does not disappoint.

“The Red Balloon,” a movie I’ve seen many, many times and love (my elementary school must have owned a print: I feel like it was an annual event) was the favorite with my girl and her best friend. They claimed not to understand what was happening even though they talked their way through figuring it all out (thank goodness for patient neighbors): "What is happening? Is it a magic balloon? Is it following him to school? Are those big boys trying to take his balloon? " although I overheard this in the film’s opening moments:

My daughter: “I don’t like these movies without much talking.”
Her friend: “Yeah, and no princesses.”