One of the sidebar issues intimated in the artist biopic, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, an enchanting voyage through that elusive entity known as the creative imagination, is what has befallen literature in this era dominated instead by the combo image/cyberspace prevailing mass consciousness in the present. Though not so perhaps in the case of children’s books, whose enduring visual and visceral intensity defies the otherwise literary obsolescence in progress.
And in the forefront of this artistic challenge is the more than equally defiant human subject of this documentary, Tomi Ungerer. A lifelong formidable creative force fueled by massive psychological contradictions, Ungerer serves as a kind of self-analytical shrink as well, in talking about his work. As the culturally French storyteller sketches out a conflicted life both traumatized and inspired by identity crisis issues stemming from his birth in the contentious French/German border province of Alsace, and Nazi era intimidation endured in his youth. Even as the subsequently triumphant French scorned his acquired German accent under nazi rule, and shockingly went about burning the German books of Goethe and Shilling.
Persisting and prevailing even into old age with a youthful creative vigor, this multi-award winning octogenarian writer and illustrator of over 140 children’s books is also oddly enough a both famed and frowned upon controversial, eventually blacklisted sadomasochistic erotic satirist, with a weirdly beloved treasure trove of headless sex slave barbie dolls. Along with penning scathing political art denouncing the US war in Vietnam, and fashioning the original movie posters for Dr. Strangelove and Monterey Pop.
All of which would seem to be far too much in Far Out, to cram into a single documentary. And first time filmmaker Brad Bernstein nearly but not quite does just that, compensating for curious omissions with his own enchantingly conceived, vigorous assemblage of animated gems throughout. Even as a need to know more frustration materializes, concerning the absence of focus and influence regarding radically outspoken extrovert Ungerer’s current, nearly invisible family life, and the politically dedicated artist’s likely observations, as he lived for the past four decades through the traumatic years affecting Ireland.
And Bernstein’s alluring in their own right visuals enlivening the film at times do threaten to compete with Ungerer’s own imaginative impulses. While the fast forward procession of the artist’s work could have done with a bit of slowing down. But in any case, the cinematic compositions infusing Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, more than satisfyingly inform and delight.
First Run Features