CANNES, France — “Amy,” Asif Kapadia’s new documentary on the too-short life of Amy Winehouse, opens with grainy video footage of the performer as a goofy, zaftig 14-year-old from North London singing “Happy Birthday” to one of her best friends. It closes with images of some of the same friends weeping at her funeral some 13 years later.
In between, the film, which on Saturday was shown out of competition to critical raves at the Cannes Film Festival, paints a portrait of an immensely talented jazz and R&B singer whose meteoric rise came too fast for her handle. A huge voice in an increasingly tiny body, she went from listening to Tony Bennett to recording a duet with him less than a decade later.
Winehouse died at age 27 in 2011 after years wrestling with drug and alcohol addiction and bulimia.
At Cannes, the documentary was immediately hailed by critics. The Hollywood Reporter called it “an emotionally stirring and technically polished tribute, its sprawling mass of diverse source material elegantly cleaned up, color-corrected and shaped into a satisfying narrative.”
The Guardian called it “stunningly moving and powerful: intimate, passionate, often shocking, and almost mesmerically absorbing.”
On Twitter, the Guardian critic, Peter Bradshaw, added:
That’s it. I’m calling it: I hereby declare Asif Kapadia to be this year’s King of #Cannes http://t.co/OzPMohNSEY
As in the director’s film about the late race-car driver Ayrton Senna, Mr. Kapadia combined archival footage with interviews for “Amy.” The two-hour documentary, which will be released in the United States in July, has already made waves in Britain, where Mitchell Winehouse, the singer’s father, has disassociated himself from it, saying it places too much blame on him for the addictions that helped kill his daughter, who went to the grave with a tattoo reading “Daddy’s Girl” on her left arm.
Mr. Kapadia has defended the film, which had the support of the singer’s label, Universal, and draws on extensive interviews with the singer’s parents, colleagues and friends.
In the film, Mr. Winehouse says, “We did everything in our power to help Amy, but you can’t force treatment on someone.” In keeping with the lyrics of “Rehab,” the song that would catapult her to worldwide stardom in 2007, Ms. Winehouse refused to get help for alcohol problems after her father told her she didn’t need it.
There are interviews with other musicians like Questlove as well as with her managers, including Nick Shymansky, who met Winehouse when she was 16 and he 19 and who comes across as more protective than the professional handlers who in later years wanted her to pack stadiums.
In 2008, Mr. Bennett, an idol of Winehouse’s, announced that she had won the Grammy for album of the year for “Back to Black.” In an interview in the film, Mr. Bennett compares her to Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. “She was a natural, a true jazz singer,” Mr. Bennett says, adding that jazz singers don’t like performing in front of 50,000 people. “She had the complete gift.”