JDIFF 2013 REVIEW – Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story

Tomi Ungerer is probably the best children’s book author that you have never heard of. The film chronicle’s Ungerer’s life, his rise to fame and the moment that he disappeared from public view.

Tomi Ungerer was born in Alsace, and moved to America – the Land of Opportunity – after World War 2. He quickly moved from drawing for advertisements to writing and illustrating children’s books, to creating an adult book that would prove to be his undoing.

The film is made up of interviews with Ungerer and his contemporaries, including Where The Wild Things Are author Maurice Sendak. As well as this, the film is given shape and narrative focus through animations based on Ungerer’s work. Through interview, Ungerer talks about his life as a child, living through World War 2, and his move to the US. What emerges is the picture of a man whose suffering, paranoia and fear, combined with his love for eroticism, the slightly surreal and his utter glee at the oddest things, has made him a wonderful artist. It is the tragedy and joy of Ungerer’s life that have combined to make his work as powerful as it is.

Ungerer’s books, which take conventionally scary animals and make them relatable, made him a star in the children’s publishing world, and opened doors for authors such as Maurice Sendak to be received. As he explored the underside of children’s literature, however, Ungerer was also drawing posters that shone a light on the injustices of America, and was exploring the underside of human sexual desire. When the Fornicon was published and this was discovered, he was eventually blacklisted by publishers and librarians in the US.

Ungerer talks about his choices, on foot of the realisations that his two styles of work could not coexist in the US, to move first to Nova Scotia, then to Bantry in Cork, Ireland with honesty and candidness. The wounds that prompted his moves may have healed, but the openness with which he talks about all facets of his life makes the film feel incredibly personal. Ungerer is a natural storyteller – perhaps this explains his love of Ireland and the Irish people – and his descriptions of the wind and land in Ireland are lyrical and beautiful; “In New York I found the city I never found, but in Ireland I found the country I always wanted.”

There is a particularly moving moment where the author discusses his love for Ireland, his adopted home, a discussion that moves him to tears. Here is a man who has suffered hugely throughout his life, and he is moved to tears by the Irish people. There are those who may say that his poetic language and waxing lyrical about Ireland is a little overly sentimental, but as an adopted Irish person, I found his expressions of love and gratitude to be spot on.

Brad Bernstein brilliantly merges interviews and animation to create a rich, fascinating and incredibly moving story. Interviews are carefully used to enhance the story, and the animation strikes the right balance to give the audience a taste of Ungerer’s work. Ungerer is a wonderful subject; never blaming anyone for past hurt, but accepting it as the fabric of his life. He comes across as a man who knows and has expressed his inner, dark self as well as the light and playful side of his nature. For this reason, the audience is invested with Ungerer, and when he triumphs, the audience feels it with him.

Far Out Isn’t Far Enough is a wonderful exploration of the work of Tomi Ungerer, as well as an examination of love, fear, paranoia and glee through the lens of his work. Ungerer himself is a wonderful storyteller, but Berstein’s use of animation serves to enhance and dramatise his stories.

Rating: 5/5

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