We had the chance to watch this documentary last night, and it was utterly fascinating stuff, featuring much audio footage of George Remi aka Hergé talking about his life. The documentary was based on 14 hours of tapes recorded by young journalist Numa Sadoul in 1971. Hergé was legendarily reclusive, and the chance to hear him speak candidly (in French, nb) in this documentary is reason alone to watch it. But director Anders Østergaard has done much more, constructing a compelling story of Hergé’s life and how it impacted his work. This is no dry talking heads exercise; for instance, Østergaard uses archival photos of Hergé to make high contrast animations that appear to bring the recordings to life. Some might find this approach gimmicky, but we thought it was appropriate.
Of all the great (and we mean world-changing) cartoonists, Hergé had perhaps the most controversial life. His mentor was a Nazi-sympathizing Belgian priest, and Hergé married the priest’s secretary, a woman whose confining influence is alluded to in the second half of the interview. These tapes constitute the only in-depth interview about his life and work Hergé ever conducted, and he realized they were far too revealing: they were released only in a highly rewritten form during his lifetime. This documentary (which came out in Europe in 2003) has been produced with the full cooperation of the Hergé Foundation, however.
That said, if you’re not already on the Tintin bandwagon, this documentary won’t convince you — it takes for granted the popularity of the kid with the red hair and the worldwide influence of the “ligne claire” style.
However, for those in the know, it’s a fascinating trip. Among the more revealing moments: Hergé calling his childhood as “grey and mediocre”; his fretting that Franquin (Spirou) was a better cartoonist; his shocking arrest following the end of WWII; leaving his wife for a pretty young colorist and the mental breakdown (and psychoanalysis) that led to TINTIN IN TIBET, perhaps his greatest work; and his failed attempt at abstract painting.
If the documentary seems to dwell a lot on Hergé’s failings and difficulties, it’s only because his work reached such a high level of perfection. Tintin is the perfect hero; his creator was less so, although he comes off as a very sympathetic figure here; but learning a bit about the man who made the magic makes it all the greater an achievement.