Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? An animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, by Michel Gondry

In the documentary Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? An animated conversation with Noam Chomsky, available on video on demand from 1 June, two giants meet during a series of interviews: first Noam Chomsky, the 86-year-old American intellectual, political activist, renowned linguist and philosopher, the developer of generative and transformational grammar, switching between ideas at more than 1,000 km/h.

Then Michel Gondry,the French director who, in 2005, received an Oscar for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (starring Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey) and famous for such visual adventures as The Science of Sleep in 2006 (starring Gael Garcia Bernal and Charlotte Gainsbourg) and Mood Indigo in 2013, adapted from Boris Vian’s novel.

There is, however, no pretentiousness, but rather a modesty that is “one of the film’s strengths, along with Mr Gondry’s entrancing, vibrant illustrations”, writes the New York Times.

Here, the director illustrates, in a naive and handmade sort of way, Noam Chomsky’s complex theories as well as some personal moments that the linguist reveals, in an animation where Gondry’s creativity and imagination are used to serve Chomsky’s intellectual rigour – proving that the director truly deserves his nickname, “the handyman of French cinema”.

Trees, words, animals, people and other drawings are depicted on a black background (that of the film) or on old photographs, in a relatively abstract and simplified form of animation. The documentary, in which the director’s asides are as delicious as Noam Chomsky’s anecdotes, seems like a sort of UFO – an unidentified filmic object – revealing through the interviews as much of the life and mind-set of Noam Chomsky as Michel Gondry’s visual and intuitive representations. 

“This meeting between the American linguist and activist and the French filmmaker and handyman bears much fruit, in ideas and in pictures: it should set a precedent,” Le Monde states.

Following a screening at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where Chomsky had taught all his life, then at the 2014 Berlin International Film Festival (in the Panorama section), the documentary was released in France in April 2014.

This animated documentary lasting 88 minutes, one of the Premium Films on the Walk this Way platform, is available on video on demand (a particularly appropriate format for this documentary, as intellectually rich as it is visually) in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany and Turkey.

den 7 juni 2015, av Cineuropa

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