Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

Sweden/United Kingdom 2012
Directed by
Malik Bendjelloul
86 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4.5 stars

Searching For Sugar Man

Synopsis: In a Detroit bar in the late 1960s, a young musician by the name of Rodriguez was discovered by two record producers, who signed him up to a two-record deal. His first album Cold Fact was anticipated to be a major success, but in fact flopped dramatically. Rodriguez dropped out of the public eye, and it was rumoured he had suicided. Years later, as South Africa battled apartheid, his music, which had travelled there via a bootlegged copy of his album, soared into popularity, often being used as anti-establishment inspiration. Decades later South African journalist and a record shop owner set out on the trail of Rodriguez to see if rumours of his death were true. What they discover, and its upshot is beyond belief and is an ultimate tribute to the power of music.

Malik Bendjelloul, the director, cameraman, editor and producer of this film, devoted several years of his life to bringing its inspirational story to fruition and his efforts have paid off admirably, winning him several film festival audience awards as well as a nomination for a Grand Jury prize at Sundance.

I had never heard of Rodriguez but within a few minutes I found myself captivated - an eager follower of  the detective mystery and enamoured by his stunning songwriting which belongs with the likes of James Taylor, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Nick Drake. But it is the structure of the film, too, that held my interest every moment of the way.

Beginning in South Africa with a man called Stephen Segerman who runs a music store, we are then transported to the depressed city of Detroit, where Rodriguez, son of a Mexican immigrant, lived. We meet the record producers who reminisce upon first hearing his amazing voice but who found the man himself very mysterious, never even knowing where he lived. Rodriguez's songs are laid over the visuals and the melancholy of the music is combined with the stunning cinematography which captures the sad city in all its loneliness and poverty. Men who had worked with Rodriguez as manual labourers, a number of old cracked photos of the singer from the 70s and from album shoots, and in some scenes, animated segments, fill in the blanks of the singer’s beginnings. Then, in informative and dramatic contrast, there is quite a bit about the young South Africans who fought against apartheid and how Rodriguez’s music became sort of an anthem for them.

When the musicologist detective gets on the case he decides to “follow the money” – to try to track down where any royalties from the recordings may have gone and this trail leads him back to the USA where surprise and joy come out of what is discovered.

Structuring a documentary in this way, with a large element of mystery, works well. The director avoids the sort of repetition and reiterative talking heads that is seen is so many lesser efforts, and manages to keep everything feeling fresh from go to whoa. Searching For Sugar Man is an unmissable doco not just for music fans but for anyone who wants to see that there really can be magic in life, and that talent isn’t the same thing as ego.




Want more about this film?

search youtube  search wikipedia  

Want something different?

random vintage best worst