Niclas Goldberg is captivated by a new film by Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul, a film that's taking the world by storm. The discovery of little known music legend Sixto Rodriguez.
In search of a story for his first feature-length film, Swedish director Malik Bendjelloul went on a long trip to Africa. There he found an incredible yet true story. Five years later the documentary, “Searching for Sugar Man” made Swedish film history. It is the first Swedish film picked up by Sony Pictures Classic since the days of Ingmar Bergman. It is the kind of film that gets standing ovations and an enormous emotional response from audiences time after time.
This extraordinary and implausible story of the involuntary rock icon Sixto Rodriguez can be described as a sort of Sherlock Holmes detective story built up with a Hitchcockian spirit. It’s not only heartbreakingly moving and engaging, but also it will shake your seat with music so soulful it will leave you speechless for weeks.
Forty years ago in a smoky bar somewhere in Detroit, two Motown producers who worked with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gay discovered Sixto Rodriguez, a singer/song writer with a magical voice and lyrics that seriously challenged those of Bob Dylan. Rodriguez was the greatest 70s U.S. rock icon who never was - his two albums were critically acclaimed, but were major flops selling only 50 records.
Rodriguez faded away into obscurity among rumors of a gruesome death. However a bootleg copy of his record made its way to South Africa, where his music became a phenomenal success - Rodriguez was more popular there than The Rolling Stones. In the film, two South African fans take the release of his second album on CD as a sign and decide to look into the mystery of how Rodriguez died, setting off an unbelievable, wild chain of events.
Almost as unbelievable is how director Malik Bendjelloul, who was a child actor and has directed programs about Björk, Kraftwerk and Elton John, manages to delicately create such deep excitement for a musician and persona no one outside South Africa has ever heard of.
Naturally he begins the film by picking the right songs to hypnotize us with the extraordinary sense for lyrics that Rodriguez had. Bendjelloul helps us understand how much the humble yet rebellious Rodriguez has motivated South African people over the years through interesting, perfectly timed interviews. He builds up a story with such tight suspense, eye-opening surprises and timing that Hitchcock is probably chuckling in his grave. The twists and turns are wonderfully constructed while the rhythm of the film flows as a river. As a viewer you are immediately sucked in, and shaken to the core, by this amazing tale that is unlikely to ever happen again. A real-life saga of a limitless rebel, a soulful prophet and a man you wish could be your best friend. You are watching the rise of a forgotten musician. Forty years later.
Sugar Man by Malik Bendjelloul / Sixto Rodriguez, official Trailer:
The original music by Sixto Rodriguez:
Director Malik Bendjelloul and Rodriguez Talk 'Searching for Sugar Man'