You may think you don’t know Tomi Ungerer, a French illustrator/political cartoonist who grew up under Hitler, had considerable postwar success in the United States and then was blacklisted for years.
But if you know the work of the late Maurice Sendak, you’re not far from Ungerer territory. Their designs often overlapped, and their use of satire in children’s books had a similar flavor. Both men are interviewed in Brad Bernstein’s provocative new documentary, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story,” which calls Ungerer a “chronicler of the absurd.” (Sendak died in 2012.)
Ungerer, who was born in Strasbourg, France, lost his father when he was young, and during the Occupation he and his mother were forced to speak only German. The denial of their language and culture was traumatic for the boy, though he almost seems to embrace the challenge of the experience when he’s speaking to Bernstein.
Articulate and passionate, Ungerer also gets swept away when he’s talking about how prolific he became (more than 140 books), love at first sight (that’s how he met his wife), anti-war sentiments (he was appalled by Vietnam), and the macabre and sometimes childish eroticism that led to his banishment from libraries and bookstores.
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As the movie’s cheeky title suggests, “Far Out Isn’t Far Enough” means to provoke discussion. The images of book burnings recall “Fahrenheit 451,” and so does Ungerer’s attempt to compare American and German forms of fascism.
John Hartl: email@example.com