Directed by Fernando Trueba, Chico & Rita is a Spanish animated Indie film, which was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film for the 2012 Academy Awards, and it is easy to see why.
Featuring a sexually charged love story, excellent voice acting, and an amazing Cuban Jazz soundtrack, the film hits most of the right notes.
Set in the late 1940s and early 1950s, the movie embraces its pulpy nature right down to its animation. Rather than employing a jazzy animation method, it features a chunky old-school visual style, which makes the film look very distinct, especially during colourful scenes set in Cuba, Paris, Las Vegas, and Hollywood.
The film begins in present day Cuba, Chico, an old shoe-shiner, is listening to the radio in his rundown apartment when he hears an old song he composed with his partner, Rita. The song takes him back to Cuba in the 1940s as he reminisces about his days as a struggling pianist with his friend, Ramón. We immediately see that Chico was not only a good looking and talented pianist but that he was quite fond of women as well.
Everything changes for Chico when meets Rita, the gorgeous singer with the sultry voice. The two click immediately and began a relationship. Trouble is that Chico cannot change his womanising ways, and Rita cannot break out of her love hate relationship with him. Tired of being cheated upon, Rita leaves Cuba for America, to pursue her dreams of becoming a famous singer and actress.
Chico follows her but still does not mend his ways. Meanwhile, Rita meets other men and becomes famous but she still cannot stop thinking of Chico. The dynamics of their relationship is the heart of this story, and while the characterisation is superb, the characters aren’t very likeable, and there isn’t enough exploration into the psyche of their complicated behaviour.
The movie features fantastic tracks from a large list of great jazz musicians, including the great Cuban artist Bebo Valdés, whose own life inspired some parts of this film. The relationship between Chico and Rita aside, the film is a real tribute to the Latin jazz music scene of the 50s.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, March 18th, 2012.