Wednesday, March 28, 2012

CHICO AND RITA (2011)


Written by Fernando Trueba and Ignacio Martinez de Pison


Directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando


Where & When: Nuart Theater, West Los Angeles, CA. March 13, 2012 5:10PM


"Chico & Rita", a dazzling animated film from Spain that earned a surprising but well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature. This film was not made with children in mind as it's an adult love story between two Cuban musicians who have a intense desire to play beautiful music together (on and off stage) but are kept apart due to their career ambitions and an unfortunate lack of communication.

We first meet Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Ona), now an elderly gentleman who shines shoes to make a living in modern-day Havana. He hears a song on the radio that takes him back to 1948 when Chico was a young, struggling musician hanging with his pal, Ramon (Mario Guerra) who acts as his manager. While enjoying an evening at the Tropicana Club with a couple of blonde, American tourists, Chico is mesmerized by a beautiful, dark-complected singer, Rita (Limara Meneses). He tries to charm her but she's uninterested as she is entertaining her own wealthy, American tourist. The house band is missing their pianist, so Ramon arranges to get Chico to fill in. Rita, captivated by his skill as a musician, is soon easily convinced to dump her date and run off in to the night with Chico.

After a glorious evening together, reality bangs on the door in the morning light as a jealous lover of Chico's starts a physical brawl with Rita with both women leaving in a huff. Ramon manages to get the two to work together and despite a little tension, they find success as a musical team. A problem arises when an admirer offers Rita a chance to perform in New York. Rita had insisted that Chico be part of the deal but because he assumed she wanted to leave him, Chico storms off with Rita leaving for New York without him.

Chico manages later get to the Big Apple with the two lovers reconnecting one evening. There is still a deep bond between them however, Rita, now involved with her manager, has become a star in the city with her next stop is in Hollywood while Chico, as new arrival, is still struggling to make a name for himself as a musician. While Rita tries to quietly endure the sting of racism in her quest for fame, Chico manages to join a jazz band and tours Europe but because of Ramon's secret business arrangement, his future as a musician becomes completely derailed.

With the exception of a few minor scenes involving establishing shots, "Chico and Rita" is beautifully rendered in hand-drawn, two-dimensional animation which is an art form that is, unfortunately, becoming a relic of the past. The film makers wisely realized that the currently popular but sterile, computer-generated images would never have properly captured the sensual colors and great passion required. The film offers up a simple, if not predictable, story but it still manages to be quite compelling and has enough warmth and charm to keep you fully engaged. While there are brief moments of violence and nudity, it is all subtly done with nothing that would be too objectionable to allow more mature youngsters to see.

Music plays a major part of "Chico and Rita" as it helps elevate each moment from joy and laughter to  heartbreak which brings this film to life. It features the work of several jazz greats including Thelonius Monk, Tito Puente and Dizzy Gillespie who all make brief appearances in the film.

"Chico and Rita" is as vibrant and electric as the music it celebrates and it brings long overdue attention to not only jazz but to the musicians who struggled and sacrificed but remained committed in playing simply because of their deep love of the music.