Monday, 17 August 2015

"Did you have a good day?"
"Yes."
"What did you do at school?"
"I worked, as usual."
"What did you work at?"
"Math."
"Math?"
"And spelling."
"What did you learn?"
"Multiplication, and..."
"Addition?"
"No, we've done that."
"Subtraction?"
"No, we've done that, too. In writing, we learned how to do all the capital letters."

This is from a brief conversation between frazzled puppeteer Suzanne and her young son, Simon, from Hou Hsiao-Hsien's Flight of the Red Balloon. Following a heated argument with her rent-dodging tenants downstairs, only living there on goodwill garnered from knowing her long-absent husband in Montreal, Suzanne arrives back at her Parisian apartment to talk on the phone to Louise, her somewhat estranged older daughter living in Brussels, whose plans to return to Paris to study have suddenly fallen through. Upset and exasperated, she asks her son for a hug, which he delivers without hesitation. She asks about his day at school, holding onto his presence if not his embrace: multiplication, addition, subtraction; but never division. He leaves to get a snack and she's left alone; the Chinese film student she pays to look after him sits silently at a table just out of shot; a blind man continues to tune a piano.

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