Chico & Rita – 3 Buckets
One of the first images in Chico & Rita, nominated for this year’s Best Animated Film Oscar, is an overhead of Havana – an establishing shot that would seem exceedingly normal in any live action feature, but is a thing of surreal beauty in this medium. In what must have been a painstaking labor of love for the animators, the colorful cityscape pops with Latin flair—it’s vaguely cubist, while still capturing the city’s Art Deco architecture—and perfectly sets the scene. Indeed, Chico & Rita is a movie of style over substance, but this is not a bad thing – the style is so rich, it gives the movie soul.
As the title indicates, the film is a love story – of the old-fashioned, enduring variety. Chico (voice of Eman Xor Oña) and Rita (Limara Meneses) first meet in a jazz club in pre-Castro Cuba; he’s an ambitious piano player, she’s a singer. Once they hit it off, their relationship is blissful – they share romance and successfully collaborate on music. But Chico is a womanizer and, even though he knows Rita is the one for him, he strays. Rita leaves him and heads to New York to be a solo star. A lifelong saga, which also transports the characters to Paris and Las Vegas, ensues.
As evidenced by the above synopsis, writers Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba opted for a conventional “separated soul-mates” narrative trajectory. But the unremarkable plot is not the byproduct of lack of effort – there was a method to their madness. Martínez de Pisón and Trueba realized that the real narrative meat of Chico & Rita would rest the movie’s stylistic qualities – the animation, which is just as vivid in terms of character detail as scenery; the lively jazz music, selected and composed by legendary Cuban pianist Bebo Valdés; and the evocation of historical settings, both Cuban and American.
Given that the sights and sounds around us—the context through which we experience life—inform who we are as people, the way that the filmmakers value music and imagery over dialogue-heavy scenes of character exposition is entirely fitting. Film is an empathetic art-form in which so much of the objective is to help the viewer understand what it’s like to be in the characters’ shoes. Thus, even though Chico and Rita may not say a lot about its title lovers, it captures who they are by detailing the world that surrounds them, which tells us just about everything we need to know.
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Chico & Rita (2012; Spain, UK). Produced by Steve Christian, Santi Errando, Andrew Fingret, Cristina Huete, Elisa Plaza, Martin Pope, Antonio Resines, Michael Rose, and Marc Samuelson. Directed by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba. Written for the screen by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba. Featuring the voices of Eman Xor Oña, Limara Meneses, Mario Guerra, Jon Adams, Renny Arozarena, and Blanca Rosa Blanco. Distributed by GKids. Not Rated (inappropriate for children), with a running time of 94 minutes.