At first glance, SMS Sugar Man seems content to rehash certain clichés about prostitution. Upon closer inspection, though, a number of surprising nuances reveal themselves, such as the fact that all the clients are black businessmen and all the hookers are white girls — a reversal of the situation in the days of Apartheid. Or take the scene in which a father orders a ‘sugar’ for his inexperienced son: when the girl takes him to a hotel room, we expect to see the usual tale of a boy’s rite of passage, but instead the young man declines to sleep with her because he refuses to obey his father. He prefers to get stoned and when they dance together after smoking a joint, he asks her for a kiss. She refuses on principle, kissing a client would ‘blur the lines’. But eventually she gives in. Afterward, in the car, those few kisses turn out to have upset far her more than a string of quick lays.
No contact — this seems to be the film’s conclusion. The pimp, the girls, the clients, they are all lonely, lost in a world in which people look at each other up close but never get to know one another. It’s as if they are mere images, momentarily appearing on each other’s display screens. All life is superficial. In an interview, Kaganof mentioned Baudrillard as an influence, and his characters do indeed appear to be living the French philosopher’s concept of hyper-reality: physical reality has been replaced by a reality of simulacra (images) that only refer to themselves and each other. In simpler terms, the real world is only experienced in the shape of media images.
The plot may have its shortcomings and the finale lacks credibility, but the ambiance and beauty of the images more than make up for these. The low resolution creates a coarse pixilation, which lends the film a sort of painterly quality that suits its dark, dreamy atmosphere well. Kaganof made inventive use of the cell phone camera, sometimes tilting the frame, as we tend to see in home movies, and making imaginative use of split screen: we see Sugar Man filming one of his girls on his phone, and in the frame next to it we see the recorded image. Moments like these erase the divide between cast and crew, creating an intimacy between camera and actors and subsequently between the film and its audience. The viewer feels like a voyeur, as if staring at spontaneously recorded footage. Intimacy created by a film about people who shun it.
read the full review here: http://www.filmkrant.nl/slowcriticism_2009/6807