Thinking back to my youth and the fond memories I have of my mother reading me bedtime stories, the book that stands out most is Crictor, a delightful tale of a pet boa constrictor that earns the affection and gratitude of his town.
Imagine my surprise when I learned the author of this children’s book had a storied past that, among other things, included publishing erotica artwork that ultimately led to him being blacklisted in America and his books being banned from libraries.
Brad Bernstein’s directorial debut, Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story, brings the fascinating life of its titular character to the big screen as we explore the French artist’s lifelong testing of societal boundaries through his use of subversive art and social satire.
Ranging from his endearing children’s books to his visual commentaries protesting American involvement in Vietnam to his obsession with erotica, Ungerer was an artistic visionary that achieved success and was subsequently ostracized over the controversy he generated.
Starting at the beginning, we learn of Ungerer’s life in France as a child under Nazi rule and, oddly enough, how being forced into the German Nazi education system actually fostered his artistic genius and gave him the opportunities he needed to succeed at his craft. Inversely, the traumatic Nazi occupation of France also instilled a great sense of personal paranoia, which is reflected in his artwork throughout the years.
After coming to America in 1956 and succeeding in the world of print illustration, he moved on to illustrate and write children’s books. While noted primarily for these efforts, he also made a name for himself in the ’60s with posters that spoke out against segregation and the war in Vietnam.
It wasn’t until he dove into the world of erotica that things came full circle and destroyed his career as a children’s writer. This proves an interesting parallel to his life under Nazi rule, reiterating totalitarian rule over freedom of expression.
While at the surface this seems a formulaic documentary with a mixture of interviews, photographs and archival footage, Bernstein brings the art alive with animated sequences created from Ungerer’s artwork.
And while the doc itself borders on the hagiographic, Ungerer’s self-admitted imperfections and candour – smoking homemade cigarettes during interviews while speaking about his love of a good female ass and a young woman he mentored that wanted to be bound and dominated – helps flesh him out as an imperfect human being.
Far Out Isn’t Far Enough: The Tomi Ungerer Story is an exceedingly intimate portrait of a multifaceted and gifted man whose work has been ignored for far too long.
(Corner of the Cave Media)