After turning in one of her less successful fictive seriocomedies in “Alles Inklusive,” aka “The Whole Shebang,” Doris Doerrie is on terra more firma with “This Lovely S—ty Life,” a documentary whose protagonists have little time for the kind of neurotic navel gazing that preoccupied those in the previous pic. This portrait of female mariachi musicians in Mexico City doesn’t probe too deep, but offers a satisfying mix of personality and culture with a moderate feminist slant. While continuing its festival run, it should pick up some offshore sales, particularly among artscasters.
Plaza Garibaldi is ground zero for the myriad mariachi bands of Mexico City, and has remained so for decades despite an escalation of crime in the area. They’re used to dealing with drunks, drug users and hecklers there, though it’s particularly irksome for women, who often have to deal with the chauvinism of male musicians on top of everything else. (It’s peculiar that while we frequently hear subjects complain about this, Doerrie doesn’t tap any male perspectives — self-incriminating or otherwise — on the matter.) Their lot is also made difficult by the heightened conflict between long, irregular hours and childrearing, a duty that naturally still falls mostly on the mother’s side.
A principal figure here is Maria del Carmen, a distinctively lusty singer of admittedly hair-trigger temperament. She dislikes leaving the raising of a preadolescent daughter largely to her own mother, but has little choice given her chosen profession. Violinist Lupita is lucky to have a husband who understands the logistical demands of her muse, and is willing to do more than his traditional share of stay-at-home parenting. Her late mother was part of a pioneering all-female mariachi band whose now-elderly surviving members still perform on occasion. One of them says she doesn’t think younger musicians today share the same ethics or love of music that her generation did — though from what we see, the dedication doesn’t seem to have changed.
The documentary eventually touches on some larger social issues, including the attempts to keep children safe from the pervasive hazards of drugs, prostitution and violence. But these are too glancingly addressed to have much impact. Doerrie is more interested in the performance aspects, female camaraderie and surrounding local color in her subjects’ lives, all of which are flavorfully captured by d.p. Daniel Schonauer and other savvy contributors. The result is more diverting than deep, but then “This Lovely S—ty Life” aims more to celebrate its protagonists’ torch-bearing for a beloved musical form than to do any investigative heavy lifting around their socioeconomic hardships.