Face the Music | 2017 | 90 minutes
Stranger Says: Chavela introduces American audiences to the eponymous Chavela Vargas, a Costa Rica–born Mexican ranchera singer who rose to fame (and infamy) in the 1940s. The film documents the artist’s solitude as a semi-closeted lesbian in macho Mexico and her struggle with alcoholism, all while dazzling audiences with Vargas’s powerful and soul-crushing performances. Director Catherine Gund blends frank and funny interviews with Vargas in 1992 with evocative glimpses into the artist onstage, and also sit-downs with those who know and love her. She died in 2012. If you thought mariachi bands were the only musical export Mexico had to offer, Chavela is here to remind you how wrong you are. (ANA SOFIA KNAUF)
SIFF Says:Born into Costa Rica’s middle class in 1917, Isabel Vargas Lizano seemed destined to live a life defined by heartbreak. Ostracized by family and church for not conforming to gender norms, the preternaturally gifted singer relocated to Golden Age-era Mexico City, transforming herself into Chavela and finding her voice as an androgynous, soul-baring, ranchera-singing sensation. Teaming with legendary composer José Alfredo Jiménez, Chavela would come to enjoy a long career as a heart-worn and impassioned voice on the sorrows of love before succumbing to an unscrupulous record industry and her own longstanding battle with alcoholism. Out of style, out of money, and with few options left, she retreated to rural Mexico, eking out a modest living before an unexpected offer brought her back to the stage and into the hearts of the lovelorn the world over. More than 25 years in the making, directors Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi’s Chavela brilliantly captures the emotional intensity of the legendary singer’s life and loves. From the iconoclast who challenged a misogynistic culture by being the most macha of all the machos to the emotionally fragile cantadora whose searing tales of the tragic end of love made her a household name, Chavela is an extraordinary portrait of an unforgettable woman.
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