Magazine article Screen International

Searching for Sugar Man

Magazine article Screen International

Searching for Sugar Man

Article excerpt

Dir/scr: Malik Bendjelloul. Sweden-UK. 2011. 85mins

Searching For Sugar Man probes the depths of the improbable with the story of an unappreciated Mexican-American singer from Detroit whose reputation is made and preserved by white South Africans. Malik Bendjelloul's debut feature mixes detective work with the tale of the bewildering and poignant resurrection of Rodriguez.

Malik Bendjelloul builds the drama as he provides details for a compellingly complex portrait of a talent whom time had forgotten.

With the pulse and momentum of a crowd-pleaser, plus a soundtrack of rarely heard songs by the soulful Sixto Rodriguez, Searching For Sugar Man should play well on the arthouse circuit in English-speaking countries, where Rodriguez (the singer's stage name) has enjoyed a revival for more than a decade.

Rodriguez, nearing 70, is still performing, so a theatrical release is possible and promotable wherever he has fans. Swedish backing for the doc makes Scandinavia another strong territory, and television will give the film an extended life.

Newcomer Malik Bendjelloul, who is Swedish, introduces the Rodriguez story as the mysterious disappearance of an extraordinary talent, a shy singer with a soulful voice whose albums in the early 1970s failed to sell at all. With Rodriguez's voice haunting reminiscences from old friends and former music producers, an audience will be left wondering what happened.

The doc pivots into history and musical archaeology, as South Africans tell how bootleg tapes of the Rodriguez album catch on with young white Afrikaners chafing at the restrictions of apartheid in the 1970s. I Wonder, a gentle protest song from the album Cold Fact (1970), "was the soundtrack of our lives," one of them recalls.

In a deft interplay of dogged investigation and randomness, Bendjelloul shows how facts surface to dispel a persistent myth that Rodriguez shot himself on stage. …

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