French filmmaker Michel Gondry is releasing an animated documentary feature Friday in select theaters on the linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky.
The independent project, Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? was self-produced by the Oscar-nominated director of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and is based on a series of interviews with Chomsky.
Gondry, who has previously used animation in his 2006 film, The Science of Sleep, said he’d watched several documentaries on Chomsky before finally meeting the author at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The pair began a series of conversations that the filmmaker decided to film using a 16-millimeter Bolex camera and then illustrate using animation hand-drawn by Gondry himself.
“After four or five meetings, I decided to use abstract animation to destroy the complexity of his theories because I find them captivating and I wasn’t sure I could illustrate precisely,” Gondry said. “I thought using abstraction was a way to find an artistic parallel to his sayings, so I envisioned it, proposed it to him, and I showed him an abstract drawing evolving, and he liked it.
He also used the animations to reveal the filmmaking process to viewers and outlines his own thought processes about the documentary and Chomsky’s ideas.
“I was very nervous (the first) day, so I tried to figure out my first question, and Noam is trying to put me at ease, telling me I have this sixth sense I should feel,” Gondry said.
The filmmaker said he decided to ask Chomsky about his first memory, which leads to an anecdote about the political activist at about 18 months old.
“Now we zoom back into his past, so I illustrated a group of aunties trying to feed him with his oatmeal, and he doesn’t want to eat it,” Gondry said.
The scene is richly illustrated using photographs and vivid animation first drawn on Champion paper.
“He felt very human, Gondry said. “He had a great caring for people. He’s a very moral individual. His discourse, especially in politics, is very moral. It’s all about hypocrisy. You should not do to others what you do not want others to do to you. He lives by that. He lives a simple life.”
“One of the drawings I did was him and his wife working and he framed it and put it on his wall. It’s a very small place with lots of books,” Gondry said. “He does not create a distance from you even though he has all the means, all the reason of doing it.”
The movie’s title is based on a sentence that Chomsky diagrams during the film to explain the way linguistic information children receive does not fully explain how they acquire the grammar of language, and Gondry illustrates that, as well.
“This is a movie that celebrates the life of a great mind and makes a case for the mind that knows less but keeps on asking,” writes critic Manohla Dargis in her review for the New York Times.
Watch this trailer posted online by MOVIECLIPS Trailers: