“Flight of the Red Balloon” is part of the Portland International Film Festival (70 some films, 44 shorts, Feb. 7-23), a movie made in French by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien as a sort of homage to “The Red Balloon,” Albert Lamorisse’s famous 1956 short film about a balloon with a life of its own. It’s the sort of movie that you have to decide, do I like this sort of thing or not? And if you don’t, it’s going to be excruciating — it obeys none of our storytelling conventions about pacing, action, climax, denouement, resolution. Maybe it’s all denouement, but even that’s stretching it. It’s highly unlikely that it will be one of the PIFF movies picked up for a regular run at one of Portland’s commercial theaters, even though it has a star in the cast, the incomparable Juliette Binoche.
So if you find yourself watching it all the way to the end with some pleasure that might even involve periods of inattention? If it’s not “unbearable” as The Oregonian’s Shawn Levy describes it, then what is going on? A pure form of naturalism leavened by some whimsy. And the lives of others responsibly depicted have a certain appeal, an invitation to consideration, that doesn’t have much to do with entertainment. And that’s exactly the criticism most frequently leveled at Hou: He’s not entertaining.