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L’uomo dei cinque palloni (The Man With the Balloons)

Posted by martinteller on April 11, 2013

Marco (Marcello Mastroianni) runs a candy factory in Milan.  A man proposes that he should promote his product with balloons.  Marco takes home some samples and starts goofing around with the balloons with his girlfriend Giovanna (Catherine Spaak).  He starts to wonder how much air the balloons can hold.  He takes his conundrum to a neighbor, an engineer and a nightclub.  His wonder turns into obsession, and Giovanna struggles to tolerate his mad desire to know exactly how many puffs a balloon can withstand before it pops.

It’s about time I got back to Marco Ferreri.  His Dillinger Is Dead blew me away and then I went on a binge, but it was mostly his later films.  I’ve been meaning to explore his earlier work for a long time.  This film has encouraged me to keep going.  It’s a wonderful bit of absurdism.

It was chopped to pieces by the producer, Carlo Ponti, down to about half an hour and included as part of the omnibus film Oggi, Domani, Dopodomani.  Fortunately, Ferreri managed to salvage it and added a color sequence (Marco steps into a swinging 60’s nightclub… filled with balloons!).  The print I saw was pretty rough, but I’d love to see it in a proper transfer and restoration.

Like DID, the story seems ripe for various interpretations.  Are the balloons a sexual metaphor, either representing Marco’s impotence or phallic inadequacy complex?  Is he a corporate-minded man so focused on details (in the opening scene, he has a tantrum because a machine is only wrapping 340 candies per minute instead of the expected 348) that his need to maximize productivity interferes with his enjoyment of life?  Or is it a story simply about the human impulse to know the unknowable?

Regardless of what subtext you choose to take away from it, it’s a grand and delightful study of obsession.  Mastroianni’s breakdown is gradual, and it never feels like he’s taken it a step too far.  You kind of have to sympathize with his need to know.  His chemistry with Spaak is really enjoyable… the two have a lot of fun (some of it a bit kinky) together but as he goes down the rabbit hole, her annoyance amplifies.

A simple film that can be unboxed a number of ways, Ferreri (who makes a cameo appearance) injects the whole thing with a lively spirit.  Rating: Very Good (87)


2 Responses to “L’uomo dei cinque palloni (The Man With the Balloons)”

  1. Thanks for this insightful review! How did you have a chance to actually see it? I am searching for this film for years, without any hint of how to come by. Some even claim it is lost, some rumors go about a greek VHS still floating around somewhere. Do you have any hint of where to look to see it?

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