M/A/D | Music/Art/Design
A towering figure in Mexican pop music, Chavela Vargas was both a myth and a cypher. A singer who turned Rancheras into dark journeys of the soul, Vargas lived a hard life and each experience made her deep, coarse voice richer.
The documentary directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi is traditional in structure, but there is no need for narrative somersaults. Chavela provides all the fireworks you need: born to unloving parents in Costa Rica, the singer ran away to Mexico were she found fame, but also developed a severe case of alcoholism that destroyed her career and every relationship she had.
Chavela Vargas didn’t officially "come out" until very late, but never made much of an effort to hide her homosexuality. She was known for her masculine appearance, forward attitude and many lovers. The unexpected third act in the life of the songstress came courtesy of Pedro Almodóvar. When Chavela was broke and submerged in obscurity, the Spanish filmmaker found in her music the perfect score for his films and introduced her to a new generation of adoring fans.
Gund and Kyi use the devastatingly beautiful lyrics of Chavela’s songs to illustrate the stages of a life punctuated by heartbreak (in her words, "love is real, but fleeting"). It’s a fascinating story with a killer soundtrack to boot.
"Gund and Kyi load up on evocative photos and insightful interviews, though Gund’s own recordings are the most revelatory in demonstrating Chavela’s mix of confidence with injured pride and a flirtatious desire to control her own legend."—Jay Weissberg, Variety