Berlinale Blogger 2017 A hymn to life

Chavela by Catherine Gund, Daresha Kyi
© Alicia Perez-Duarte

Entered in the Panorama section, the documentary "Chavela" is an interesting portrayal of the most universally acclaimed Mexican singer. Nobody can fail to be affected by her intense biography.

Chavela Vargas is one Mexico's most renowned and admired singers. Nevertheless, few people know the details of the life of this artist who broke moulds and scandalised the society of her time. The film's release shed light on aspects of the singer that had been in the shadows, such as her indomitable character, her homosexuality and the magnetism that made her irresistible to any woman she set her sights on, from the artist Frida Kahlo to the Hollywood star Ava Gardner.

Although she was born in Costa Rica, Chavela Vargas emigrated to Mexico at an early age, fleeing from a highly conservative society and a family in which she always felt like a black sheep. "Mexico made me a woman," comments the protagonist during one passage in the film. This is where Chavela started her musical career and found a niche in the rich cultural scene of the time.

The film includes various interviews with women who loved, advised or simply admired her. Their testimonies are scattered throughout a long interview with the artist, recorded over 25 years ago, when she was already 71 and had quit performing due to her alcohol addiction. This is interspersed with some of her best-known songs, bringing a breath of fresh air to this outstanding portrait. 

The film also includes scenes from some of her most legendary performances, in the likes of Acapulco, Paris and Madrid, as well as testimonies from those who revered or loved her. One of these is Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar, who sponsored her on her European tour in the final phase of her career and incorporated her voice into some of his films.
Collecting all this material, from the interview to the consecutive statements, took decades, and the film finally premiered last week at the Berlinale, five years after Vargas' death aged 93.