MFR Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★
Searching For Sugar Man begins by feeling like another documentary full of people exclaiming their adoration for a musician most non-South Africans wouldn’t have ever heard of. But taken by surprise, this film actually turns into an astonishing gem and bizarrely touching story about an undiscovered talent. I’m reluctant to give much away as part of the film’s amazement is in its unraveling mystery and I urge you to try and find out as little as possible about the story before seeing it. But in its simplest form, Searching For Sugar Man is the story of a musician known as ‘Rodriguez’, an American with songwriting talent akin to Dylan but unlike his 1970s contemporary, found his talent completely undiscovered in his home America. Curiously, Rodriguez’s sound traveled through bootlegs to South Africa, oddly resonating during the apartheid where he became ‘bigger than Elvis’ despite no one having any idea exactly who the reclusive ‘Rodriguez’ really was besides a cross legged figure wearing sunglasses on the front of a record. Despite being utterly unknown in the rest of world, his music sold half a million copies in South Africa. The man was a complete mystery with little known about him besides the popular belief that he had killed himself on stage. The film simply tries to answer who was Rodriguez? And why the fantastical mystery?
A documentary about a musician no non-South African has ever heard might not get people racing to the cinema but really, it should be. It’s a fascinating and slickly produced documentary that features the usual talking heads but also gives the music time to breathe with some elegant shots to showcase the talent of Rodriguez along with a compelling storyline. Importantly, the film builds up a terrific emotional core which grabs you by surprise in its search for the trails of its reclusive hero, displaying the power of art and its complicated relationship with its owner. In the end, I was absolutely fascinated by this Rodriguez character and find myself searching for his music, marveled at the elegance of his anonymity. Like the film itself, something utterly astonishing can be hidden in the most unlikely of places.
Review by David Rank
Searching For Sugar Man is out on 27th July in the UK and US (limited release). Certificate 12A (UK).
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