One of the nominees at this year's Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, the Spanish import Chico & Rita goes against the grain of most films nominated for that award and most of what American audiences have come to expect from an animated feature.
Directed as a group venture by filmmakers Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, and Tono Errando, Chico & Rita follows the romance of rough-around-the-edges piano prodigy Chico and curvaceous nightclub singer Rita, starting with a 1948 Havana meet-cute and tracking their intertwined careers and their on-again, off-again affair. This is a feature-length cartoon for grown-ups: The rich, expressionistic, hand-drawn animation and brainy, alluring, adult content (including some nudity) might remind viewers of Richard Linklater (Waking Life, A Scanner Darkly) or Sylvain Chomet (The Triplets of Belleville, The Illusionist), though the film ultimately falls a little short of those comparisons.
In Havana, Chico and Rita become a couple, and then a duo, building a following and scoring a hit that lands Rita an invite to New York. She wants Chico to come with her, but a misunderstanding separates them. Chico eventually makes his way to New York alone, finding his place at basement jazz clubs alongside be-bop giants while she emerges as a mainstream star.
The picturesque locales — old Havana at its vibrant pre-Castro peak, post-war NYC awash in cool blues and grays, glittery Rat Pack-era Vegas — are opulently recreated and amateur musicologists will enjoy the film's depiction of the rise of Afro-Cuban jazz. Music is near-constant in the film, from upscale supper clubs to dive bars to street percussionists. (Much of the soundtrack is by Cuban jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer Bebo Valdés, whose own life provided the rough inspiration for the film.) The film also weaves in appearances from real-world jazz figures such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Tito Puente.
Chico & Rita
Brooks Museum of Art
Thursday, April 5th