Let us continue our run down of some of the best and most popular rentals available through Cinema Paradiso since its launch in late 2003 with this article which will be looking at two wonderful and unusual pieces of cinema that I had the privilege of reviewing for the magazine: Amour (2012) and Searching for Sugar Man (2012). There were a number of impressive, entertaining and noteworthy films available for rent.
Ben Affleck’s Argo (2012), the wonderful Silver Linings Playbook (2012) and the first in Peter Jackson’s epic The Hobbit series, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012), the two films addressed in this article stand out for me far more than any of these others, one because of its warmth the other because of its depth.
Mystery is a much over used word these days and is far more evocative of thrillers and crime dramas than of stories of exploration and enlightenment; yet mystery is the very word that must be used to describe the first film to be discussed in this article.
Searching for Sugar Man is a musical documentary about two South African music lovers; a record store owner and a rock journalist, who decide to go in search of the truth behind the disappearance of their idol, a Mexican-American musician whose music resonated so strongly with the oppressed people of South Africa during the Apartheid that his songs became the war cries of a generation.
Yet, despite the huge popularity of and impression left by such a musician there are few outside South Africa who will have ever heard of the “Sugar Man”. Only ever known as Rodriguez this mysterious musician rocked South Africa after a single copy of one of his records was brought home as a gift by a girl for her boyfriend back in 1970, from there his music spread like wildfire. Moreover, it seems, Rodriguez himself would never know of his success or even step foot upon the continent.
The backbone of the film itself is, as the title suggests, the search for Sugar Man; a journey which consists of interviews with music moguls and owners of dive bars, remembrances from fans and rumours recalled from more than thirty years ago.
What makes Searching for Sugar Man so enjoyable is the aforementioned mystery, it is a search for answers, yet one paved with charm, wonder and awe, rather than the darker emotions one usually associates with the term; there is something mythical about Rodriguez and the impact he had upon those who heard his music is not unlike that felt by Bob Dylan fans. This is the music of a movement, one that epitomizes the thoughts, struggles and desires of a generation and almost acts as a photograph, a single moment captured and distilled into a strong but nonetheless beautiful concoction of melodies. I believe that what caused me to be so taken with Searching for Sugar Man was the unexpected-ness of the story, the twists, turns and intrigue of the mystery and the fervour with which the rock and roll detectives are searching for their idol.
The second film discussed in this article and the final one to be addressed in the series as a whole is also an exploration of devotion, yet of a very different kind. Michael Haneke’s Amour is the story of aging married couple Anne and Georges whose relationship is forced to change after Anne’s health suddenly begins to decorate.
There is nothing overtly beautiful about this Oscar and Palme D’or winning piece however, Haneke, as is his wont, attacks the subject rather than probing it with any sensitivity; the static and unyielding camera forces you into the scene, providing no respite against the difficult and extremely painful emotions on display.
This is not to say that Amour is a bad film, there are many reasons it garnered so much praise and recognition, particularly I believe because of its bravery. As anyone who has dealt with, cared for or witnessed the slow death of an ill and aging loved one will tell you there is no escape from the emotional turmoil inherent in such situations. It is this experience that Haneke depicts and it is complimented wonderfully by the performances of Jean-Louis Trintignant as Georges and Emmanuelle Riva who was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of Anne; the tender and long standing love that once existed between this culturally cultivated and intellectual couple is torn and twisted and reshaped on a daily basis following Anne’s stroke and it is the emotion and frustration in Georges eyes and the helplessness of Anne that make Amour so moving and painful to behold.
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