Is the man who is tall happy?

an animated conversation with Noam Chomsky

Speelse beeldentovenaar Michel Gondry overtreft zichzelf met zijn nieuwe film “Is the man who is tall happy?”. Een exceptionele, innovatieve film waarin hij de fascinerende ideeën van de beroemde taalwetenschapper en filosoof Noam Chomsky omzet in beelden die je instinctief meteen begrijpt. Als een emotionele ondertiteling van een rationeel verhaal. Een wonderschone film over hoe wij de wereld ontdekken en begrijpen, wat de rol van taal en verbeelding daarin is.
Chomsky is beroemd vanwege zijn ontdekkingen rond taalbegrip en daarmee de werking van onze hersenen. 85 jaar oud, vertelt hij met wonderbaarlijke scherpte en eloquentie over zijn ideeën en leven. Over waarom bijvoorbeeld kinderen instinctief begrijpen dat een ezel die verandert in een steen, nog steeds de ezel is. Maar ook hoe hij als kind van 10 al met zijn vader Hebreeuwse klassieken bediscussieerde. Briljant en volkomen fascinerend. Maar het is het visuele talent van Gondry, geperfectioneerd over de jaren, die deze film zo bijzonder en fantastisch maakt. Hij tekent associatieve animaties die aan Chomsky’s woorden een emotionele lading geven. Die je laten begrijpen zonder na te denken. Een bijzonder vreemde ervaring; als een ondertiteling in beelden. Een magisch samenwerking van twee bijzonder vindingrijke mensen die ons helpen de wereld begrijpen; de een door de kracht van wetenschap, de ander door de kracht van kunst.


 

 

Michel Gondry over zijn film

In one of the first interview I gave about my film debut, I was asked what I would like to direct the most. I was looking for the most counterintuitive response : shoot an animated documentary. I like unreasonable ideas because they need a very special focus to be materialized. And this extra bit of work gives them their quality. And well, yes it is unreasonable to plan to do an animated documentary : the lack of control necessary to the thruthness of the ducumentary is contradicted but the way animation is supposed to be executed…

 

Therefore, when I had the luck to meet Noam Chomsky and hear him talk about generative grammar, this idea jumped back at me and yelled, damanding to be executed. My ideas are impatient. They can wait decades in a corner of my mind. However, if they see the possibility to walk outside, they jump at my throat right away.

 

The conversation with professor Chomsky is alive, sometime complexe yet alway very human. Through my illustration, we follow the winding path of my stutturing understanding. Noam is often patient, sometime less so the trail always uses unexpected bends. This lead my animation to unexpected places. The mecanisms, repetition and logic of Noam’s stream of ideas have determined the drawings’s transitions and evolutions. For how bending the concept of « animated documentary » was, it finds a perfect justification here.

 

I never had the ambition to bring proof, demonstrate theories, but rather use my creative or artistic capacities to produce something different, stimulated by meeting one of the fiew scientist following the tradition of the enlightment today.

 

Film maker Georges Clouzot or Photographer Brassaï did it before me with the genius picasson. Each time, the difference of function of to minds who meet and talk is producing the work. Professor Chomsky has a memory, a blinding knowledge of science and history so i had to find a way to not end up overwelmed and let the dialogue exist. My way is to draw 24 different pictures per second and expose them to the brain each second. When the shapes i draw start moving, that’s in fact a lot of information going right to the audience’s brain. In this process I find a sort of equivalence that let me see a balanced relation with the professor.

 

Moreover animation is expressed by it’s subjectivity : The audience is constantly reminded that he is watching the point of view of the author. In opposition, traditionnal film making is hiding this subjectivity in creating a feeling of naturalness that allows the audience’s manipulation by hiding the process. In this the juxtaposition of animation and documentary finds another reason to be tried.

 

At the heart of the conversation, we witness Noam’s explanation of a possible emergence of language in history. And i repeat to myself, 24 time per second that I was there, listing to what was said. Like it would have been like listen to Edwin Hubble talking about the red shift he observed from distant galaxiea and how it led to the theory of the big bang. Well that is a lame comparison but a long way to say i felt priviledge. Yet what is the most remakable in thes discussion is Noam Chomsky humanity, the way he respects people’s different way of life, their beliefs and above all, the way he often includes is wife in the conversations, maybe to keep her alive next to him.

Michel Gondry.

 

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