Tintin et moi Review
Hergé, the pen name of Georges Remy, remains best known as the creator of Tintin. Coming up with the character of the youthful Belgian journalist in 1929, he would eventually see him through 23 books over the next 47 years. Yet Tintin et moi is here to prove that there was more to Hergé than his creation, even as the two are inextricably linked. Indeed, Anders Østergaard’s 2003 film is at once a biographical documentary and a reclamation of the comic books. They’re not just for kids, we’re repeatedly told, but contain “the history of the 20th century”, encompassing almost “50 years of politics, wars and daily life”.
Though he passed away in 1983 at the age of 75, Hergé nonetheless makes a huge contribution here. Over four days during 1971 he conducted an in-depth interview with student Numa Sadoul which promised “tricky questions” and would see the author faced with queries he himself would refer to as both “cruel” (when touching on his childhood) and “indiscreet” (in relation to the break-up of his first marriage). Soon afterwards the interview was published in book form – also under the name of Tintin et moi - albeit in altered form; Hergé had approval on the manuscript and continually retuned his answers so that they no longer resembled initial responses. Here, however, we get the opportunity to hear snippets from the original tapes and get them placed within the wider context. Sadoul himself is at hand to recount his experiences of ’71 and much more, whilst Tintin scholars Michael Farr and Harry Thompson similarly appear to address the bigger picture of Hergé’s life and work. Furthermore, we also have director Østergaard shaping the material into an overall cohesive whole.
And yet despite these other hands in the process, it is still Hergé who leads the film. Østergaard and his own interviewees seemingly follow the example of the author insofar as the frankness and psychoanalytical approach with which he approached his own life over those four days in 1971 is mirrored elsewhere. What this means is that Tintin et moi comes across not only as a deeply personal portrait, but also a deeply serious one. Furthermore, it also allows all of the relevant background to come into play so that even those such as myself, who have only a passing acquaintance with the Tintin stories (and that primarily through the sixties and seventies screen adaptations), aren’t required to come to the film with any previous knowledge; the history and chronology of Hergé and his creation are all fully sketched in.
That said, Tintin et moi isn’t merely a first-rate primer as it will also no doubt provide plenty of fascinating material for the lifelong fan. Everything is dealt with in great depth and with great intelligence, from Hergé’s WWII experiences (during which time Tintin was published in the Nazi-owned Le Soir which, as a result, saw him arrested four times as a collaborator) to his efforts in the 1960s to become an abstract artist. In-between we also get details of various breakdowns – both mental and marital – and essentially a fascinating portrait of an artist. In his own terms this was a progression (regression?) from the “boy scout spirit” of his central creation to the cantankerous nature of Captain Haddock, but as said the Tintin dimension isn’t wholly necessary – the film fascinates purely in its biographical details alone.
Of course much of this is predicated on the knowledge of Sadoul, Farr and Thompson, yet it would also be unfair to disregard Østergaard’s own efforts. Stylistically he goes for a sober approach which repays his interviewees words without ever distracting for them. He offers up diorama-esque renditions of Hergé’s original panels, calls in a handful of voice artists to re-enact key moments of dialogue and makes intelligent, succinct use of archive footage (including, interestingly enough, an encounter with Andy Warhol). Furthermore, this very straightforward and serious approach prevents Tintin et moi from ever becoming too much of a ‘fanboy’ exercise. Of course, Sadoul et al are clearly enthused by their subject, yet Østergaard’s subdued methods keep it all within acceptable confines. We never lose sight of the bigger picture, never get lost in trivia point-scoring or a multitude of asides, and as such are left with a film which really should be open to everyone. Indeed, many a newcomer may even find themselves impelled towards Hergé’s originals.
Gaining a release in the UK courtesy of Anchor Bay, Tintin et moi is sadly extras-free but does come with a pleasing presentation. Only 74 minutes in length, the film fits easily onto a single-layer disc and presents no problems. Of course, the quality of the image varies depending on the quality of the footage used, though the newer material – the interviews and spruced up illustrations – demonstrate excellent clarity and detail. Indeed, there really are no complaints to make; we’re no doubt getting the film just as Østergaard intended. As for the soundtrack Anchor Bay have thankfully done away with their usual practice of DD5.1 and DTS upgrades for this release and stuck with the original DD2.0 offering. With dialogue coming, alternately, in Danish, French and English we therefore get optional English subtitles where applicable (which oddly spell Hergé as Hergè), though not a hard of hearing option to encompass it all. Nonetheless, the soundtrack is fine condition and again presents no difficulties. All of the speakers remain crisp and clear throughout. As a final note, it is worth mentioning that the Danish issue of the film, which being the principle country of origin should therefore offer the definitive release, came with only the theatrical trailer as its single addition.