07 · 4 · 19

Volcano woman: Chavela Vargas at the Pedro Almodóvar cinema

By: Gabriela Martínez @GabbMartivel

Antonio Banderas won the Best Actor Award at the 72nd Cannes Film Festival thanks to his work in Pain and Glory (2019), the most recent film of Pedro Almodóvar. Banderas plays Salvador Mallo, a filmmaker who has decided to pause his career and memories make him travel to his childhood, his mother and his first love in Madrid during the eighties.

Mujer volcán: Chavela Vargas en el cine de Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar and Chavela Vargas

The starting point of Pain and Glory is the life of Pedro Almodóvar himself, it is a very personal work where you can find the origin of all those elements that have characterized the style of the Oscar-winning Spanish filmmaker for Best Foreign Language Film in the 2000 for All About My Mother (1999). The feminine figure, the saturated colors, the intense red shades and even the so-called “Almodóvar girls” are some of those resources that are repeated in the Almodovar’s filmography, although they are not the only ones.

Todo sobre mi madre (1999, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

All About My Mother (1999, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Mexico has been present in some of his works. Whether in a tapestry, a tablecloth, a character, the talavera, in music or tequila, Mexico has a place in the universe of Pedro Almodóvar. One of the strongest links that the filmmaker has with our country is the presence of Chavela Vargas in his cinema. The Mexican music singer, of Costa Rican origin, forged a solid friendship with the filmmaker during the time that Chavela lived in Spain, a country that saw her resurface in the 1990’s after her retirement from the stage.

The Sala Caracol in Madrid was the place where her voice was heard again and Pedro was there to listen to it. According to a text written by the director to say goodbye to the singer on the day of her death, “No living being sang with due tear to the great José Alfredo Jiménez as Chavela did. Chavela created with the emphasis of the end of his songs a new genre that should bear his name. The songs of José Alfredo were born on the margins of society and speak of defeats and abandonments, Chavela added an ironic bitterness that overcame the hypocrisy of the world that had to live and who always sang defiant. She gloated in the end, turned the lament into a hymn, spit the end in the face.”

Almodóvar first included a Chavela Vargas song in Kika (1993). While listening to Luz de Luna, we see Veronica Forqué and Bibi Ándersen feel the lack of love and refuge in memories.

Kika (1993, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Kika (1993, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Two years later, in 1995, Almodóvar did The Flower of My Secret, a film where En el último trago musicalizes the catharsis of Leo Macías, played by Marisa Paredes, after being abandoned by her husband.

La flor de mi secreto (1995, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

The Flower of My Secret (1995, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

In Live Flesh of 1997, we listen Somos to accompany a sex scene between Elena (Francesca Neri) and Victor (Liberto Ribal), the protagonists of an impossible love story.

Carne trémula (1997, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Live Flesh (1997, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

In 2016 Almodóvar premiered Julieta, where he musicalized the possible rapprochement between Julieta and Antía, mother and daughter who have not seen each other for several years, with Si no te vas.

Julieta (2016, dir. Predro Almodóvar)

Julieta (2016, dir. Predro Almodóvar)

Being Pain and Glory such a personal project, Chavela Vargas could not be left out. One of the sequences has the voice of the singer interpreting La noche de mi amor to remember an intense and passionate relationship of years.

Dolor y gloria (2019, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

Pain and Glory (2019, dir. Pedro Almodóvar)

In his farewell letter to Chavela, Almodóvar remembers the time he visited her at her house in Tepoztlán, Morelos, in 2008 where she lived in front of the hill of Chalchitépetl from where the Popocatepetl volcano could also be seen: “On that visit she also told me “I am Quiet”, and she repeated it to me again in Madrid, on her lips the word calm takes on all its meaning, it is serene, without fear, without anguish, without expectations (or with all, but that cannot be explained), calm. She also told me “one night I will stop”, and the phrase “I will stop” fell with weight and at the same time light, definitive and at the same time casual. “Little by little,” he continued, “alone, and I will enjoy it.” She said that.”

“Goodbye volcano” Pedro signed this letter published by El Deseo, production company that he founded with his brother Agustín in 1985. Thus he dismissed his great friend, who liked to call him “husband in this world”, a woman who could very well condense everything the female figure represents in Almodóvar’s cinema: imperfection, pain, conflict, but above all, strength.