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REVIEW: Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Michel Gondry – 2013) [Sydney Film Festival]


Michel Gondry, visionary director behind Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Science of Sleep and Be Kind Rewind, has applied his quirky inquisition to speaking with one of the smartest men on the planet, Noam Chomsky. Instead of a ‘talking head’ documentary, piecing together this series of interviews featuring the renowned linguist, philosopher and activist, Gondry decides that to claim the inherent manipulation of cinema and animate every conversation.

If you’re being reminded of the spectacular work of Richard Linklater’s Waking Life, with rotoscoped animation used to enhance and mutate the words of all of the different guests, that’s the most comparable filmic experiment. What greatly differentiates this project from anything else, and ultimately endears you to Gondry, is that he, and he alone, animates every single frame of the film by hand. Between other projects, over the course of several years he spoke with Chomsky a few times and paired those insightful dialogues with his animated stylings. Evolving from more simplistic animation in the opening of the film, to extremely intricate visual diagrams that compliment their conversations, including the integration of notes that he and Chomsky shared; the blood, sweat and passion drip from every frame.


Chomsky is an incredibly erudite thinker and he’s able to collapse thousands of years of scientific thought into (almost) digestible portions for us to understand. In moments of the film where Chomsky gets incredibly technical with contrasting the philosophical evolution between Structuralist and Post-Structuralist thought, or describing the near magical phenomena that language conjures in your mind, you may struggle to keep up. However, Gondry too has moments that he doesn’t understand. Whether it’s because of his thick accent or something that’s lost in translation, he has these charming flashes of addressing the audience with his confusion and what he’s attempted to comprehend over the course of the animation process. I can’t imagine many other filmmakers taking the time to not only address their confusion, but to animate it.

As for Chomsky himself, there’s a kind of beautiful serenity in the man whose so well known for scathingly critical essays of the U.S.A’s deplorable geo-political imperialism. Exploring his early life, his unusual primary education and reading his father’s PhD dissertation by the age of twelve, seemed to create the right conditions for him to bloom into one of the most formidable thinkers of our generation. In their final meeting Chomsky was 84 years of age. Gondry reveals that his exertion was in part to ensure that Chomsky had an opportunity to see the final product and give it his blessing.

Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? is an intellectual spirit quest for Gondry and it honours its subject with the toil of how it was forged.

[rating=3] and a half

Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Director: Michel Gondry
Writer: Michel Gondry
Stars: Noam Chomsky, Michel Gondry

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