It is entirely fitting that the Mill Valley Film Festival, which has always had a strong rock music affiliation, includes in its ¡Viva El Cine¡ section two music documentaries of Mexican musicians. And what an interesting juxtaposition it is: first is the joyful and contemplative Que Caramba Es la Vida, which features the personal and professional lives of female mariachis, and second is the more conventional documentary For Those About to Rock, about the talented acoustic guitarists Rodrigo y Gabriela. Uniting the two very different films is the musicians’ singular dedication to their craft and to overcoming various obstacles: financial, social, philosophical, logistical.
Each subject is revolutionary in its own way. In Caramba, the profiled musicians count the ways they make their mark and make their living in a male-dominated industry and against more traditional macho cultures. This includes nurturing and expanding, at all costs, their God-given talent (Maria del Carmen, whose resonant, glorious alto and incredible theatricality are worth a separate film); juggling their dual lives as homemakers and as artists (Las Estrellas de Jalisco); and continuing to rock after they become grandmothers (Las Pioneras de México). For Those About to Rock chronicles the musicians’ shift from the heavy metal music of their México City youth and toward their inimitable style, and critically, their determination to be a truly global band with a rigorous aesthetic practice.
These two films viewed together is a delightful study in contrast: on one hand is a very public music performed, literally, for individuals and their personal sorrows, on the other is a practice geared toward the stage. The mariachas are as local as you can get, down to the street corner in which they hold sway; Rod y Gab are migratory yet accessible in all languages. I suppose that these talented musicians would argue that this is precisely the power of music – the ability to be different and diverse and yet universal.