Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Balloon

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Reviews - Balloon


Reviewed By Stephen Pye

On the high plateau of Tibet we encounter sheep rearing and ram breeding not dissimilar to the high fells around Keswick. A family with three children scrape a living. This is the setting for Pema Tsiden's film 'Balloon'. Tsiden himself is Tibetan and studied Tibetan at university in China before becoming a primary school teacher, and then a film director. Tsiden has done much to raise the profile of film making in Tibet; before his venture into film most movies about Tibet were directed by Han Chinese and spoken in Mandarin. Tsiden's work then lies behind a renewed interest in film-making in Tibet and the Tibetan language and, in spite of the rigorous censorship rules, has led to some Tibetan films becoming widely distributed throughout China and beyond.

The film we saw on Sunday evening has been much admired by the critics. In the film we come up against not just the harsh reality of rural Tibet but also the all-pervading influence of Tibetan Buddhism. The patriarch of the family dies, and the son is informed by the aged Llama that his father is soon to be re-incarnated. His wife is pregnant, and he now believes the child will be the re-incarnation of his dead father. His wife though does not wish to bring another child into poverty. The film proceeds with what could be a mournful storyline, and yet there are moments of real levity, especially featuring the two young boys in the family; indeed their performance, beautifully naturalistic, is one of the highlights of the film whilst at the same time showing how Tsiden's previous work as a primary school teacher has influenced his film career.

The "Balloon" then is something we can all respond to from our childhood, but also a subtle critique of China's policy on families, and, in the film's closing scenes, as the red balloon escapes into the clouds, a metaphor for all our vanishing hopes and dreams.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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