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Finding Vivian Maier: Doc about enigmatic figure doesn’t pretend to know all the answers

Detail from a self-portrait of Vivian Maier.

Vivian Maier/Maloof Collection

3 out of 4 stars

Written by
John Maloof, Charlie Siskel
Directed by
John Maloof, Charlie Siskel

A self-styled outsider artist comes into focus in Finding Vivian Maier, a striking documentary undertaken after one of its directors bought a nondescript box of photo negatives at a garage sale.

After looking at the work more closely, John Maloof decided the shots – mostly black-and-white photographs of street scenes – were remarkable and set out to find the woman who took them.

The photographer in question was a very private woman named Vivian Maier, who worked as a nanny and made no effort to share her thousands of brilliantly composed photos with the world.

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Why somebody so clearly talented never officially professionalized her skills is one of the big questions framing the film, which keeps raising new ones as it goes along; what begins as a mystery about a talented unknown mutates into a portrait of a troubled woman with an unhappy past.

Some may find Finding Vivian Maier invasive, since Maloof and co-director Charlie Siskel delved into its namesake's past after her death, but their curiosity is genuine rather than prurient; this is the rare example of a documentary about an enigmatic subject that doesn't pretend to know all the answers.

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