People who share their lives online might seem like natural fits for documentaries, but Adam, the web-diarist subject of “Searching Eva,” is tough to classify. A professed sex worker, writer, musician, anarchist, feminist and recovering addict, Adam believes, according to the film, “that one can pretend to be whoever they want.” (Adam went by Eva Collé at the time of filming, and the director has retained that name for the title.)
Raised in Italy and shown living in Berlin, Adam is not camera shy, and apparently thinks nothing of being filmed in the bath or having sex. We even witness what looks like a real encounter with a sex-work client. But the film illustrates that being self-baring is different from being self-revealing. It inspires a vexing but welcome question: What did I just watch?
The filmmaker Pia Hellenthal takes a highly reflexive approach. She uses the credit “author and director” and lists figures in the film as if they were actors playing themselves. Adam’s voice-over is attributed to posts from his website; the proceedings are punctuated by onscreen text “politely stolen” from the site’s anonymous followers.
Adam, seen in vérité scenes and posing in tableaus, largely registers as candid, but it’s hard to disentangle exhibitionism (and performance) from existence. Stories of a difficult childhood — of heroin-using parents and exploitative boys — contrast with seemingly happy current family interactions.
Hellenthal’s impressionistic style complements the parade of shifting homes and vocations. This documentary shows a life untethered to anything but confidence — or at least the projection of it.