Eternal Suffering – Chavela at Berlinale

Berlinale "Chavela"
© Excelsior/Imagen Digital

Chavela Vargas had this rare ability to move her audiences to tears. Why? Because to her, solitude was her only friend. The only thing that gave her comfort. Well, maybe at least for a longer stretch in her life, it was the tequila as well. Born in Costa Rica, abandoned by her parents, she ran off to Mexico City and started her career there, performing in cabarets and bars and soon emerging as a star for the bohemians and film stars and jet set. She also happened to love women (and she had tons of lovers, many of them famous) and even though everyone knew it, she never really made it a topic, but she opened the doors to most, if not all, lesbian women in Mexico during that time. She even had an affair with Frida Kahlo and officially came out during a TV interview in 2000.

The documentary by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi shows a woman who refused to wear women’s clothes in the 40s (she said in an interview that she would look like a transvestite wearing them and she was so right), a striking beauty, a singer who sings about unrequited love and solitude with so much passion and conviction that it almost hurts. Her partying and drinking were almost as famous as her singing, but it was also the reason why she wasn’t booked anymore.

After her comeback, she had a successful career for as long as 20 years and performed in Spain regularly and even at Carnegie Hall in New York and the Olympia in Paris almost to the day she died in 2012. People simply loved her, adored her. She was like a preacher for many. She was all this and even more for Pedro Almodóvar as well who used her songs in many of his films (“Tacones Lejanos”, “La Flor De Mi Secreto”) and played a vital role in her comeback and her success in Spain. But it was her love of being alone, her solitude, her suffering that really seemed to give her comfort. And yes, there are more examples of artists, singers who seemed to live every single line of the heartbreaking lyrics they were singing, but it was always a step further for Chavela Vargas, an uncanny honesty and truthfulness about her that came through in her totally unique and unforgettable singing. What a life.


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