mardi 8 mai 2007
The Red Balloon
(Nemo's The Red Balloon on Rue Henri Chevreau. Copyright © 2007 by MA Shumin.)
The first film I remember seeing in my life was in my seventh grade French class in fall of 1992. Madame LaFarge showed us “The Red Balloon” (1956), by Albert Lamorisse and I just fell in love with the story. It is a short film about a small boy in the Parisian neighborhood of Menilmontant, just next to Belleville who gets a magic balloon that follows him everywhere. Since that autumn afternoon sitting behind my desk I have not seen the film again and vaguely remember the details. I’ve even forgotten it took place in northeast Paris. But the memory that stayed with me was how much I love this small story about a unique friendship and the imagination it inspired in me.
“The Red Balloon” became my favorite French film, and ironically there are no dialogues in the film. The film was shown to me at the beginning of the first semester of my first year in junior high school, at I. S. 131, Sun Yat Sen on Hester Street in New York Chinatown. The students were required take up a second language and there were only two choices: Spanish or French. Most of my classmates opted for Spanish, feeling it’s more useful given that we have lots of Spanish-speaking people in New York. That summer my family had just moved out of Chinatown into Alphabet City in the East Village. The main population of my new neighborhood were Spanish-speakers from Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. I was hearing Spanish every day at the bus stops, in the laundromat, at the supermarkets.
A quiet and happy thirteen-year-old, I had a rebellious inner side and didn’t want to be like others. The beginning of fall semester I made the decision to study French. Not because I found the language romantic and beautiful to the ears, or that I appreciated the great philosophers and literatures, but simply I just wanted to be different. Never would I think I would continue to learn French after junior high school, or that I would live in France one day, and that I would be making films for my career.
Fast forward to ten years later, after my film studies from Syracuse University I was still a fish trying to swim against the current. While my classmates opted to go west to Los Angeles and to New York to pursue their film careers, I headed east to Paris. My justification was I was seeking a European and international perspective in filmmaking, that it made all sense for me to go and live abroad in France as it’s the origin of documentary filmmaking with the Lumière Brothers showing the first films of people coming out the train station in 1895 in a Paris cafe.
An unconscious but powerful desire to be different started the history of how I first studied French to eventually coming to live in France. And as if it was all meant to be, in the unique Belleville neighborhood in Paris that I eventually settled, I saw again what first inspired me.
Belleville is a living art neighborhood. It is an open museum with 24 hour free entry, opened 365 days a year, rain, snow, sleet, hail or shine. No entry ticket is necessary. The building walls are the giant canvases. Anyone and everyone who passes by can appreciate the artworks. The streets are the studios of the artists. Some of these artists are professionals, where they dedicate their whole life to art. Others have day jobs and do art on the side.
“The Red Balloon” is part of a mural painting on one of the gigantic walls in Belleville. The series of paintings first appeared on the walls of the 20th arrondissement in the early 1980’s and was created by a street artist named ‘Nemo’. He was a math professor who worked during the day, and the rest of the time began painting using stencils. The nickname Nemo was inspired by the detective comic, “Little Nemo” that came out in 1905 by Winsor McCay.
Nemo’s paintings are imaginative and the style is simple, convincing me that it does not take a lot to make great art. He created the silhouette of a man in black who wears a coat and hat following a series of different adventures. Nemo mastered the concept of space and filled it with a remarkable universe of magic. The stenciled images are strong: a suitcase, an umbrella, a ball, a cat... etc. The story is up to the viewer to imagine and for nearly 30 years Nemo’s paintings have provoked the minds of children and adults in the neighborhood.
Having lived in Belleville all these years, I can see how this neighborhood has inspired the 1956 film, “The Red Balloon” and the 1980’s of a man creating arts on the neighborhood walls. Belleville is just forever magical and inspiring.