Chico and Rita
by George Sax
It’s obvious a lot of technical work and expense have been expended on Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s animated feature, Chico and Rita. They’ve set their Academy Award-nominated film (for animated feature) in the post-war period when Latin American musicians began to be very influential in North American and European jazz circles, and artistic cross-enrichment between the northern and southern hemispheres was exciting many performers. The movie’s score is the work of the Cuban pianist and composer Bebo Valdes, one of the musicians who figured prominently in that era. (Valdes was the subject of Trueba’s 2000 documentary, Calle 54.) Valdes also provided the piano playing for Chico, the movie’s hero, and a creation whose international adventures are the narrative core of Chico and Rita.
That storyline combines the title characters’ thwarted love match with their difficult experiences in the jazz and show business worlds of the late 1940s and 1950s. Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Ona), a young Havana pianist and composer, meets the cooly temperamental singer Rita (Limare Meneses; the singing is by Idania Valdez). Personality and events keep separating and reuniting these two over more than a half-century. Their individual odysseys, Chico’s in particular, are woven through a severely reductive encapsulation of that period’s jazz and general histories. The lovers’ stories are played out to the accompaniment of a melange of musical styles and a variety of artists. There are snippets of rhumba, swing, bop, bebop, progressive, Latin bolero ballads, and even a snatch of Igor Stravinsky. There are cartoon avatars of Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Nat Cole, Chano Pozo, Tito Puente, and others, but the music is only mimicked by contemporary artists (e.g., Jimmy Heath for Ben Webster and Michael Philip Mossman for Gillespie), and these sequences are very brief. Music devotees are likely to feel frustrated. And that love story is no more than stock stuff.
Trueba and Mariscal have created a very serviceable, sometimes striking animation, especially in its vivid scene setting and compositions. If it’s not as subtly evocative, complexly involving or witty as the work in Silvain Chomet’s The Triplets of Belleville and Ari Foman’s Waltz with Bashir, it’s better than adequate (including in its use of motion-capture techniques). But Chico and Rita never truly becomes as engaging or poignant as it means to be.
Watch the trailer for Chico and Rita
Issue Navigation> Issue Index > v11n17 (Week of Thursday, April 26) > Film Reviews > Chico and Rita
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