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The Nightingale and the Night: Chavela Vargas sings Lorca

Directed by Rubén Rojo Aura

Documentary review by Amaliah S. Marmon-Halm

This is the story of Mexican singer Chavela Vargas and the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Poetry and music are their meeting points. Chavela´s gut-wrenching renditions of Mexican popular classics, poetry and revolutionary ballads, combined with her unique and aching vocals, ensured she lived her own legend to the fullest.

The film by Rubén Rojo Aura follows this ninety year old woman as she pushes herself to fulfil her final wish in her last year of life: to return to Madrid in order to pay tribute to Lorca and also finally, to meet once again, her beloved friend in death. Through a series of interviews with those that knew her, as well as Chavela herself, this is a documentary that details the transition of Chavela from life in Madrid to death, her union with Federico and how she managed to tear down the barriers between reality and dreams.

Even in her frail state, Chavela commands the screen and her interviews with all the passion of a person half her age. From her days in the Student’s Residence in Madrid, to her rise and her fall to alcoholism, we learn the true source of her gift which, like most artists, stems from a very painful and lonely place. Initially, the rough manner in which the documentary is filmed adds the similar sort of charm to that of Chavela’s husky and aching voice when she sings. In order to highlight the beauty in the poetry and how wonderfully it interlinks with the softness of the guitar, hand-painted interludes carry the film and keep the audience trapped within Chavela’s dream world.

This documentary is a beautiful tribute to not only Lorca’s work and the influence that he had on Spanish culture, but also how Chavela took his influence and made her stamp in the Spanish art world. Her final performance at the end of the film serves as the perfect finale, as it is just as wonderful as it is heart wrenching as it becomes obvious that this was her final goodbye.

The Nightingale and the Night screened at this year's Doc'n Roll Film Festival. Watch the trailer below:

You can watch more movie trailers here.


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