Finding Vivian Maier – A Film Review

Vivian Maier self-portrait with little girl
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Director: John Maloof
rated 4 out of 5 paddles

Rated 4 out of 5 paddles

A camera, the perfect, portable fourth wall. Only that which is in front of the lens exists. As subjects we seldom wonder what lies behind the equipment. This is the case at least when the lens is aimed at me and I am suddenly clothed in my self-consciousness. But in John Maloof’s carefully directed documentary about his accidental posthumous discovery of Chicago street photographer slash nanny, Vivian Maier, a particularly enigmatic life on the other side of the shutter is exposed.

Maloof recreates his discovery much like an artist uses acrylics to build a portrait on canvas. This depiction of Maier is achieved primarily through interviews of the families for whom she worked, her striking photography, and the remaining detritus of her secretive existence. We watch Maloof build Maier’s life, character, and personality layer by layer – here smooth, bright, quirky swashes with charming peaks that tickle the senses, there an unnervingly dark and messy shadow from which we might recoil. Just as a piece of art might look different depending on the angle from, or the light in which it is viewed each interview paints a slightly different facet of her fascinating personality.

I would place Oscar-nominated “Finding Vivian Maier” among my Top Ten Best Documentaries. Maloof has created a delightful and captivating account of his journey to discover the real Vivian Maier and though I am not at all sure he actually did, his attempt was worth every moment of the 83 minutes it took to witness. I highly recommend it. Available now on Netflix.

See more of Vivian Maier’s work at the website Finding Vivian Maier.

(Featured image credit: Vivian Maier, Self-Portrait)