by Andrew Robinson
Tomi Ungerer is a French artist who’s won multiple awards for his work in children’s illustrated books. He’s been an influence to many others including (but not limited to) Maurice Sendak (Where the Wild Things Are).
Documentaries about a specific person, or group of people, are easily faulted for the asinine reasoning that if their subject lacks the charisma and interest then any discovery that their work managed to create will immediately be negated because the film was unable to capture your attention. Far Out Isn’t Far Enough’s fault is not with its subject at all – a man whom no one would refuse to have over for dinner no matter the topic of conversation.
While Tomi Ungerer may be known to some as only an illustrator and writer of children’s books, he happens to have so many layers to his darkened tone. The film takes us through his foray into political commentary, racial and social commentary as well as erotic expressionism. With Ungerer being born in an area in France so close to the German border (so close it even became part of Germany for a while) in 1931 he’s lived a life in which he’s witnessed first-hand wars of races, genders and nations; which are all things that he’s managed to utilize to feed into his art.
Director Brad Bernstein finds interesting ways to highlight Ungerer’s work throughout the film. Even in the opening scene where we see Ungerer in a chair (as he is for a lot of the film, he’s simply waving his arm about explaining what does everytime he sits down to draw on a blank piece of paper. Of course, he’s talking about “raping” it and then “impregnating” it to which it eventually gives “birth” to the end product. As grasping as the interviewing aspect of that small opening scene is, we also see Bernstein use graphics to show what Ungerer is actually drawing invisibly in the air for us. It turns out to be a voluptuous woman.
While the film definitely didn’t lack character it may have been slightly misguided in how it attempts to manage the balancing act of Ungerer’s personal weight against the awe that is his body of work. It’s slightly off. With so many animations of Ungerer’s work and displays, the film almost puts its audience into the mode of wishing that they could all get up and just go to an exhibition. It isn’t so off kilter that you care for seeing his art more than hearing him discuss his life, but it’s definitely a sticking point.
This film, at its core, reeks of love for the art of expression – taking us through the times in Ungerer’s life where his talent for expressing himself and point of view soared as well as the times when his self-expression wasn’t as fully encouraged. We even see moments where Bernstein intercuts attempts to interview or observe Ungerer and the artist declines because of a chair or because he doesn’t feel it’s the right time. This all ties into an artist’s desire to make art versus the internal mechanism that actually makes art happen. It’s lovely how the film can portray that with the inclusion of these tiny moments that otherwise would feel unneeded and indulgent.
The Upside: An interesting look at a fascinating person with revealing, small details
The Downside: A bit uneven at parts
On the Side: Ungerer illustrated “Flat Stanley”
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Related Topics: Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF)