The first half of this title's documentary sounds like a release fit for the cinema, the second half sounds like it was made by the History Channel. Even though Brad Bernstein's documentary on the French illustrator, who gained prominence in 1960s New York as much for his children's book writing as for his subversive drawings, can veer towards the latter from time to time this is an interesting exploration of an artist and his work.
Born in Strasbourg, Alcase, that area of north eastern France that has historically been torn between France and Germany, Brad Bernstein's documentary likes to illustrate that Ungerer's birthplace - how he suffered under Nazi rule and later at the hands of the liberating French - as being the cause of the division in his art tastes - after all, how could a man who writes children's books be into such hardcore erotica? It's a bit of a push to believe that but it's easy to believe a childhood spent during wartime explains the hint of darkness that creeps into his children's books.
Moving to New York in the 60s, Ungerer was paid to writer children's stories before gaining international recognition first with subversive illustrations of anti-Vietnam War themes and his exploration of S&M in Fornicon. It's the latter that got him in hot soup, as it was deemed distasteful that a children's writer would engage in such filth. When his books were removed from libraries at the turn of the 70s, Ungerer made for Canada before settling in West Cork, where he currently resides.
The artist's aged-withered face (he's eighty-two) might dominate the visuals during the talking heads scenes but Bernstein’s delightful use of his art is the real winning factor here. Taking Ungerer's paintings and pictures and animating them slightly, the drawings are given a new life. While the chronological treatment to his life, with Ungerer given ample time to reflect on his youth, finishing up with his genuine love for Ireland and its people, can lend the proceedings a decidedly TV feel, this is never short of interesting throughout.