The Denver Film Society recently held the inaugural CineLatino film festival, a 4-day celebration of Latino cinema that included new and old feature films and documentaries. The only film I had the opportunity to see was Que Caramba Es La Vida, a portrait of female singers in the male-dominated world of Mariachi music. Directed by German Filmmaker Doris Dorrie, the film made it’s world premiere at SXSW in March 2014.
I’ve been exposed to Mariachi music quite a bit, but never really paid much attention to it or became a fan. Thanks to Que Caramba es La Vida, I can now pinpoint the moment in time I was converted to Mariachi fandom. (September 28th, sometime between 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM MST) The film not only offers impassioned scenes of Mariachi performances, its 82 minutes are packed with snapshots of the music’s connection to everyday lives and moments in Mexico City. The premise—the struggles women singers face in the world of mariachi—is only the starting point. The story showcases the famous Plaza Garibaldi while examining a history of female mariachi singers, the veneration of Santa Muerte, and the national pride in the music. One of the film’s most powerful moments comes when a group of women who make up the group Las Pioneras de Mexico, one of the first all-female Mariachi groups in the 1960s, get together to belt out a soulful rendition of “Canción Mexicana”.
Hay canciones extranjeras
que alborotan la pasion,
pero ninguna se compara
con esta linda canción!
There are foreign songs
that stir up passion,
but none can compare
with this beautiful song.
Dorrie does an excellent job of balancing street shows, rehearsals and formal performances with quotidian moments that bring us into the lives of the characters. Indeed, these were some of my favorite moments. When María Del Carmen, a singer in Plaza Garibaldi, picks up her daughter from school. Or when she demonstrates how she shapes her eyelashes with a heated metal spoon. In another scene, a young performer in female-based Mariachi group, Las Estrellas de Jalisco, helps her son pick out a film to watch on their TV. A poignant graveside serenade of a young mother who recently lost her daughter. When you examine Mariachi lyrics heard in the songs in this film, you hear songs of nostalgia, irony, loss, pride, love and joy. Doris Dorre’s cinematic style compliments perfectly the emotion of the music, and my summary here cannot compare to the marriage of music and image in the film. I hope to see this documentary picked up at more festivals.
Until then, here’s the trailer, in German (I haven’t been able to find an English version).