DIRECTOR: Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi
2017 | USA | 90m
Chavela is an engrossing portrait of Chavela Vargas, the gun-toting, hard-drinking lesbian singer whose renditions of soulful Mexican ranchera songs make even the coldest hearts melt.
The documentary explores Vargas’s life from her birth in Costa Rica to her rise and fall and ultimate triumph as a singer in her adopted homeland of Mexico. Although beloved, her refusal to conform to female gender norms cost her dearly.
Making this story more compelling is that Vargas was just as famous for her appetite for beautiful women and tequila, both of which she consumed in large quantities.
Using interviews with former lovers and archival footage of performances and interviews with Vargas herself, Chavela portrays a complicated woman, whose voice captured heartbreak and defiance and whose performances packed an emotional wallop. The documentary also reveals her struggles with alcoholism; Vargas’s heavy drinking often left her unreliable, directly affecting the trajectory of her career.
Although she never openly discussed her homosexuality until she came out publicly at the age of 81, Vargas made no attempt to hide her sexuality along the way. The many clips of her performances throughout her career capture the essence of why this legendary singer was so adored. To her loyal underground fans, and now the world, she was — and remains — a star.