Mexico: ‘Chavela’ Review: Powerful Doc Captures Singer Chavela Vargas, Mexican and LGBT Icon

Androgynous long before it was stylish, Chavela Vargas burst onto the Mexican music scene in 1942 in a long braid, trousers and a poncho, tequila bottle in hand and singing like a man. The captivating documentary “Chavela,” directed by Catherine Gund (“Born to Fly”) and Daresha Kyi, mesmerizes with its impressionistic blend of archival photos, musical performances, concert footage and candid interviews with the legendary singer herself, as well with her ardent friends like Pedro Almodóvar and former lovers.

One of her most famous paramours was Frida Kahlo: Their passionate affair comes to life via Vargas’s eloquent recollections, and Gund and Kyi’s well-chosen photos of the two together. Vargas vividly recalls the first time she laid eyes on Kahlo: “She was like a vision. When I saw her face, her eyes, I thought she wasn’t human, that she was from another world. Her eyebrows together were a swallow in mid-flight.”

Vargas’ poetic inclinations are chronicled in this meditative and in-depth film mostly through her rough and tender renditions of ranchera songs. The lyrics, translated into English, are artfully depicted in old-fashioned handwriting across the screen. Her interpretation of classic Mexican music was deeply emotional, nakedly capturing Vargas’ sense of lonely yearning. “I offer my pain to people who come to see me,” she said. “I bring baggage that I open up onstage.” Read more via the Wrap