Artist Tomi Ungerer rose to prominence in the late 1950s as the creator of acclaimed children’s books such as Crictor, Emile and The Three Robbers. ‘I dare say, no one was as original,’ says Maurice Sendak. ‘Tomi influenced everybody.’ In the 1960s he drew iconic protest posters for the anti-war and civil rights movements. Fuelled by his own desires, he created lavish books of erotica. But when his adult work came to the attention of the American Library Association in the early seventies, his children’s books were effectively banned. He relocated from New York City to Nova Scotia, then Ireland, where he maintains a low profile today.
Director Brad Bernstein performs a laudable act of rediscovery by tracking down Ungerer, and what comes forth is an extraordinary artistic portrait. Ungerer speaks with a twinkle in his eye and a gift with language that’s equal to his drawing talents. As for the explicit drawings that once got him in trouble: by today’s standards they could serve as illustrations for Fifty Shades of Grey. But that doesn’t mean society has caught up with Ungerer. He’s still more far out than most of us will ever get.
Thom Powers, Toronto International Film Festival