Known only as “Chavela,” Isabel Vargas was born in Costa Rica in 1919 and moved to Mexico at a young age, eventually becoming a Mexican citizen. The throaty ranchero singer and guitarist dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun, and was known for her characteristic red jorongo, a kind of androgynous red blanket poncho, which she always wore in performances until old. Vargas’ impact on Mexican music is hard to overstate. She is known as much for her haunting, hoarse voice as she is for defying the gender conventions and mores of 1950s Mexican society, flaunting her homosexuality, singing love songs to women and coming out publicly at the age of 81 in her autobiography “Y si quieres saber de mi pasado.” She became a fixture of the art and bohemian scene in Mexico City, embraced by the exploding artistic and intellectual community of the time – including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Juan Rulfo, and Agustin Lara. In the final years in her life she became a muse to filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, earned a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and sold out performances at prestigious concert halls around the world.
The critically acclaimed documentary “Chavela,” co-produced and directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi, captures the essence of Chavela’s unique voice and her raw interpretation of love, heartache, pain and beauty. The film weaves together Vargas’s performances, still photos, stock footage of the places she lived and frequented, interviews with her friends, lovers, and contemporaries, and a magnificent interview with Chavela herself that Catherine Gund shot in Mexico in 1991 and used to shape Vargas’s life into an emotionally resonant tapestry. Just as Vargas herself was a feminist muse for women, this documentary, made by women filmmakers, also mirrors the importance of women’s voices. In the film, you hear Vargas proudly state “It is a blessing to be born a woman.”English language
La Biblioteca Publica, Reloj 50A, Centro
San Miguel de Allende, GUA