SXSW 2014 Preview: Que Caramba es la Vida

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still from Que Caramba es la Vida

On the nights when mariachi groups amass on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi, playing for pesos and stirring the emotions of the crowds, there are a few female musicians in their midst. Prolific German filmmaker Doris Dorrie focuses on some of these women in her new documentary, Que Caramba es la Vida, premiering Tuesday at SXSW.  

Filmed in eight weeks during 2012, the movie introduces the viewer to Maria del Carmen, a thirtysomething woman who financially supports her mother and daughter through her singing with an all-male mariachi troupe; Lupita, a young wife whose husband cares for their son the evenings and weekends she plays violin in a predominantly female troupe, Las Estrellas de Jalisco; and the older women of Las Pioneras de Mexico, some of whom were among the first female mariachis 50 years ago. 

One of the performers of Las Pioneras comments, "All you're doing is making music, but your husband wants you at home." The women who choose to be mariachi -- one of whom says she wanted to be a "mariacha" when she was a kid -- have to be dedicated to deal with possible harassment from customers and the chauvinism of other musicians, along with any jealous spouses. "It's still a struggle," Lupita says. 

Mexico City street scenes pepper Que Caramba es la Vida, with some excellent cinematography and structure of shots by DP Daniel Schönauer. I had chills as I watched Las Pioneras harmonize on one of their songs. The pitch may not be perfect, but the power, effort and depth of feeling of these musicians seeps through the screen. 

A segment towards the end about Dia de los Muertos appears as if it is from another movie (I kept wondering, where are the musicians in this?), but it eventually ties back in to the women Dorrie has been following. These female mariachi are an inspiration, as they go against cultural gender expectations and do what they love.

Que Caramba es la Vida will have its world premiere Tues, March 11 at AMC Theatre at VCC (Violet Crown), then screen on Wednesday, March 12 and Friday, March 14 at Alamo Ritz. [more screening info]

Director Doris Dorrie will be in attendance, and two of Las Pioneras will be at the March 11 premiere. Mariachi Las Pioneras de Mexico will later perform at the Womex Night SXSW Music showcase at the Flamingo Cantina on Thurs, March 13. [more about the showcase]

You can view a clip from the documentary below: