‘Chico & Rita’: Jazzy, Romantic, Masterful

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Chico & Rita

Directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

Written by Ignacio Martinez de Pison and Fernando Trueba

2011, Spain / UK

The great films throw the existing state of cinema into sharp relief, filling a gap in the movie-going experience that was not only empty, but previously invisible to even the most passionate audience members. Today there are Disney princesses, Pixar whimsies, and Miyazaki dreams, but the superior Chico & Rita provides animation with something that it had never known it was missing: seduction. This is simply the most romantic animated film ever made.

The titular couple meet in a smoky Havana club in 1948. Rita has the voice that can draw every eye in the room, and Chico is a promising pianist with the chops for everything from Stravinsky to bebop.  They go to bed that first night, and the following morning the complications begin. Both have the talent and the passion to make it in America in a time when jazz and Latin beats were changing the music world, but the discriminatory, cutthroat show business has the power to destroy them.

“Through a combination of hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping, and computer effects, the epic nature of their journey is captured with perfection…

Through a combination of hand-drawn animation, rotoscoping, and computer effects, the epic nature of their journey is captured with perfection. The most practical reason to animate this story is that it would likely cost fifty times as much to do in live-action, but more than that, the rotoscoping allows the passion of performance to be captured like not even Pixar is capable of. Animation allows today’s real-life maestros to fill the shoes of such greats as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Tito Puente, while the legendary songs of Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, and Cole Porter fill the ears.

Thanks to the incredible music setting up every scene, there are simply no false minutes in this movie. In fact, if there is one criticism to be leveled at Chico & Rita, it’s that its number of minutes is too small. The story ends a bit abruptly, as 47 years are crossed in the space of a flashback, and a quick denouement develops. It seemed that directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal had more to say, but they lacked the time and/or money to say it.

“cynical about a great many things, but when it comes to the transformative powers of love and music it retains a warm heart and a masterful touch…

Still, the final sequence is pitch-perfect, because – without spoiling too much – Chico does not go to his reward because of luck or fate or a fairy godmother. He is rewarded for having believed, both in Rita and in his own talent, during an era when money was tight and sympathetic ears seemed to be few. This film is cynical about a great many things, but when it comes to the transformative powers of love and music it retains a warm heart and a masterful touch.

– Mark Young

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