Program 25: Chavela
Directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
An icon of Mexican ranchera music, Chavela Vargas was described as “the rough voice of tenderness.” Singing with a fiery passion, of heartbreak and desire, she was a legend of bohemian Mexican culture, and rumored to have seduced any woman she desired including Ava Gardner, Frida Kahlo, and the wives of many politicians and dignitaries. With a reputation for drinking many a man under the table, she defiantly dressed in men’s clothes, smoked cigars, and at times carried a pistol.
Directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi invite us to share in the notoriety and unapologetic life of this brash Latin American lesbian who stripped a musical genre to its bare bones and tore it from the hands of patriarchal dominance.
Mexican ranchera is a form of folk music traditionally performed by men singing of tragic love and wounded souls, but Chavela commandeered the form without changing the gender in the songs, suggesting a personal history as her halting and sensual style spoke of lost loves and fervent desire.
Men and women alike were drawn to her seductive persona and the air of emotionally volatile love that surrounded her, but she reserved her affections for other women in a culture and time where it was rarely (if ever) spoken of. The epic tales of her seducing peasant girls at gunpoint, which she ardently denied, and the whispered rumors of her many famous lovers weave a mythology that will never fully be defined. But along with her loves came a darker terrain where she drowned her sorrows in tequila and what later became an infamous alcoholism that destroyed her career. At 71 her heroic return crowned a life of raw but regal passion and brought the international fame she so deserved.
Chavela provides an intimate perspective through casual interviews with Vargas herself, her close friends including Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, and the men and women she loved and who shared her bed, alongside rarely seen footage of her day-to-day life and performances. With her passing in 2012 at age 93, the world lost a true heroine of lesbian history and a luminary of Latin American music.
— Jennifer Morgan
AWARDS & ACCOLADES
- AUDIENCE AWARD, Best Documentary Feature – Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival
- AUDIENCE AWARD, Best Documentary – Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ International Film Festival
- HONORABLE MENTION, Jury Award for Best Documentary – Frameline San Francisco LGBTQ International Film Festival
- DOCUMENTARY GRAND JURY PRIZE – Outfest Los Angeles LGBT Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – Berlin International Film Festival
- OFFICIAL SELECTION – Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival