In Memoriam: Chavela Vargas and Film

Costa Rican-born Mexican legendary singer Chavela Vargas died today due to respiratory and heart complications at the age of 93 at a hospital in the city of Cuernavaca. The famed ranchera singer, born Isabel Vargas Lizano, was a Mexican icon that defied stereotypes. She recorded over 80 albums performing in the world’s most prestigious venues including Carnegie Hall in New York City in 2003.

Chavela Vargas had a limited yet influential relationship with cinema, largely in part to her friendship to Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar. “I don’t think there is a stage big enough in this world for Chavela,” once wrote the filmmaker who played a fundamental role for her to gain international recognition.

Chavela Vargas debuted in film with a small role in José Bolaños' La Soldadera / The Female Soldier (1967) starring Silvia Pinal. She also worked with German filmmaker Werner Herzog in his 1991 film Scream of Stone / Cerro Torre: Schrei aus Stein, starring Donald Sutherland and Vittorio Mezzogiorno, in which she plays an elderly native woman called Indianerin.

Almodóvar featured songs performed by Chavela Vargas in some of his films including “Luz de Luna” in Kika (1993); “En el último trago” in The Flower of My Secret / La Flor de mi secreto (1995); and “Somos” in Live Flesh / Carne Trémula (1997). 

In 2002 Chavela Vargas was featured in Julie Taymor’s Frida, the biopic of the iconic Mexican painter played by Salma Hayek. Vargas is not only featured in the film’s soundtrack with the songs “La Llorona” and “Paloma negra”, but also has a cameo role as La Pelona, singing “La Llorona.”

Alejandro González Iñárritu featured the Vargas’ song “Tú me acostumbraste” in the soundtrack of his 2006 film Babel; while Sebastián Cordero featured her song “Sombras” in his 2009 film Rabia / Rage; and her song “Simples cosas” was included in the 2008 documentary feature film Los que se quedan / Those Who Remain by Carlos Haggerman and Juan Carlos Rulfo.

She was also prominently featured in Beto Gómez’s documentary Hasta el último trago corazón / Till the Last Drop... My Love! (2005), about some of Mexico's most renowned female performers. Her last last participation in film was in Salvando al soldado Pérez / Saving Private Pérez (2011), also directed by Gómez, performing the song “Corazón negro.”

Chavela Vargas in Frida (Julie Taymor, US, 2002):


Chavela Vargas in Kika (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain, 1995):


Chavela Vargas in Hasta el último trago corazón / Till the Last Drop... My Love! (Beto Gómez, Mexico, 2005):