Directors: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba
Writers: Ignacio Martinez de Pison and Fernando Trueba
Stars (Voices): Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Ona, and Mario Guerra
Disclaimer: I watched Chico & Rita when it was the opening film of the 2011 Miami International Film Festival almost one year ago, so my memory on details is a little fuzzy.
Chico & Rita is the story of two bohemian artists in Cuba before and through the revolution. Chico is a talented pianist, and Rita an equally talented nightclub singer. One night they meet at a club where Rita is performing. Chico is immediately entranced and aggressively makes advances toward Rita, only to be spurned. The indignation does not last long. Soon after hearing him play piano they sleep together. The next morning the story of their lives is quickly encapsulated: Chico’s (ex)girlfriend arrives and calamity ensues. The story of their lives together is one of combustible chemistry.
Chico & Rita come together as a couple and a performing duo. They make names for themselves in Havana and release a record. But then their careers diverge. An American wants to bring Rita to New York and make her a star. She initially insists on bringing Chico but the American will have none of it, and she is off to the Big Apple. Eventually Chico makes his way to New York with his manager and joins the Latin Jazz Scene in the City. He finds Rita and they rekindle their passionate relationship. But as always it is not meant to be. Eventually the American discovers their relationship. On his way to meet Rita at a motel in Las Vegas, Chico is set up and deported back to Cuba. There he remains through the revolution to eventually disappear into obscurity. But their story does not end there, and time brings them back together in an unexpected way but at a preordained place.
Chico & Rita is beautiful film. Havana is vibrant with color during its heyday. New York appears to be lighted with neon. The animation is both fluid and choppy. Fluid as Rita dances in her yellow dress the first time she hears Chico play piano. Choppy–in a good way–during a car chase on the streets of Havana. The hand drawn two-dimensional animation serves the story well.
As for the story, it would impress if this was a live action movie. What I loved most is that it showed me a part of Cuba I knew nothing about. I’m Cuban-American and my parents came from families with professional backgrounds–architects, bankers, attorneys. The stories I heard of Cuba were not this Cuba.
And lets not forget about the music. Even if latin and latin-jazz is not your cup of tea, you will be impressed with the score. It has life. When Chico plays to Rita and she sings to him you can feel the heat.
This film was rightly nominated for an Academy Award, and I hope it wins. If Chico & Rita is playing at your local Art-House cinema grab a ticket and be prepared to be impressed.
Grade = A