Mexico City’s Plaza Garibaldi is the epicenter of mariachi music. Bands flock to the historic square, especially on weekends, to sell their songs. It’s been this way for a century, though its heyday has passed. The golden age of mariachi was actually intimately connected to the golden age of Mexican cinema, and the popularity of the “charro” genre in the 1940s and 1950s. Given that this particular style of music has always been related to the cinema, it’s perhaps an especially suitable documentary subject. German filmmaker Doris Dorrie went to Plaza Garibaldi to make Que Caramba es la Vida, which makes its world premiere at SXSW this week.
Yet Dorrie did not make a broad portrait of music in Mexico City. This is a film about the women of mariachi, an underrepresented but bold presence on the Plaza Garibaldi. Que Caramba es la Vida begins as a profile of María del Carmen, a ranchera singer who is not the least bit shy in her claim to be the best voice on the square. She lives with her mother and daughter but spends a great deal of time away at gigs. Dorrie is interested in this tension, the fact that most female mariachis lead two lives. Unlike the men, who labor exclusively as musicians, the women are expected to come home and fulfill the obligations of the wife and mother.