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Searching for Sugar Man


Stars: Rodriguez

Director: Malik Bendjelloul

Mick Jagger should definitely give this riveting documentary a miss. And why? Because in Apartheid-infected South Africa and afterwards the film’s subject, American-Mexican singer/songwriter Rodriguez, was more famous than the Rolling Stones.

And more popular than Elvis Presley, too, as Cape Town record shop owner Stephen “Sugar” Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholemew discovered when they went in search of Rodriguez who, reportedly, had committed suicide when his career in the United States stalled in the late 1960s.

Their search and subsequent revelations are compelling - part documentary biopic and part detective story. (And yes, I’m going to take that traditional critical cop-out yet again and refuse to give away the story so as not to spoil your pleasure. And no, I’m not saying that because I fell asleep during the screening. I didn’t. Director Bendjelloul’s film was far too interesting and entertaining for that).

The narrative segues from South Africa to Detroit, superbly amplified by Rodriguez’ songs and their potent anti-establishment lyrics, illuminating its subject with skill and sympathy and vividly exposing the censorship horrors of Apartheid South Africa where the singer’s lyrics led to a track on his long playing record being scratched into obscurity at the demand of the then all-white Government.

Bendjelloul’s blend of exploration and political comment never falters. Even if documentaries are not your favourite genre, do yourself a favour and see this one.

Alan Frank

Sweden/UK 2012. UK Distributor: StudioCanal. Colour.
86 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 27 Jul 2012