An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Chico & Rita (2010)
PUBLISHED: 15:34 03 October 2017
Movies that tell a good story and have engaging characters provide that all-important re-watch value necessary for a great film. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies which may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Chico & Rita; dir: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando; starring: Eman Xor Ona, Limara Meneses, Mario Guerra, Estrella Morente. Cert: 15. (2010)
There was a time when animation was automatically assumed to be for children. During the last 20 years Pixar has given Disney a run for its money when it created movies for family audiences. Films like Toy Story and Monsters Inc worked equally well for adults as they did for children, allowing different age groups to interact on different levels.
However, it has largely been left to world cinema and the independent sector to truly create animated films for mature audiences. One of the most rewarding and emotionally affecting movies of recent years is Chico & Rita – a beautifully animated romance set in pre-revolutionary Cuba.
In 1948 Havana, talented young pianist Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Ona) is mesmerised by singer Rita (Meneses), and after breaking down her feisty defences, they have a sudden, intense romance. But, this is broken up by a woman from Chico’s past and by the opportunity Rita gets to travel to New York.
She may be out of sight, but Rita is not out of mind as over the next five decades, Chico also travels to New York to work, and their on-off relationship continues as they follow separate career paths.
Years later, Chico gets the chance to look for her again and reconnect with the love of his life. The animation is superb. The filmmakers both capture the place and time superbly, the architecture is rendered in breath-taking detail and the music is infectious.
But, most of all the film works because we care deeply about the characters and the animated cast are all vividly brought to life in this spell-binding movie.
The story is framed by Chico’s life in modern-day Havana, where the Castro revolution has left him working as a shoeshiner. He’s re-discovered by a Buena Vista Social Club-style documentary crew and real-life singer Morente, which sparks the story’s moving final chapter.
Unlike the real-life documentary, this film uses music and Cuban culture as the backdrop rather than the focus of the movie. It’s the characters – and their lives – which draw us into the movie. We soon forget that these individuals are drawings as we invest our time and emotions in their stories.
What makes this a really grown-up animated movie is not the sensual atmosphere or the frankly erotic love scenes but the fact that the characters are fallible, they make mistakes. These are complex people living uncertain lives and they don’t always make the right choices.
The extraordinary thing is that we, as an audience, feel pain when they make a mess of things and the two head-strong musicians fail to connect as we desperately want them to. This is a film for romantics but it is not your typical sentimental Hollywood sugar-rush. In fact, it has very little time for that feelgood factor.
As sex and romance proves elusive, it is the infectious Latin music that provides the necessary buzz to keep us feeling good – along with the knowledge that film-making lore dictates that our lovers must properly re-connect at some point before the end of the movie.
The film isn’t just angst and drama, there is an awful lot of humour present and you get a real sense of camaraderie between the musicians.
The film is given added depth and a feeling of authenticity as the animation revives jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Nat King Cole for musical cameos at key moments. The music is also an important character in the film. It not only sets the scene but it gets inside your head and provides an ever present soundtrack. It gives the whole movie a sense of the changing times and locations.
The jazz played in Cuba is different to the jazz played in New York which is different to the jazz played in Las Vegas. Music is used to illustrates the passing of the years.
Director Fernando Trueba is a genuine polymath creating the Oscar-winning Spanish film Belle Epoque, with the young Penelope Cruz, and the recent black and white art film, the gorgeous-looking The Artist and The Model.
He is a man who knows how to combine images and sound to tell a very powerful story and the animation is a key component of his storytelling toolkit. Chico and Rita would not be the same if it were a live action film. It would be diminished.
It needs the sumptuous deep colours, the rich detail and the heightened reality of the drawings to give the film the feel of a story being told by an old boy on a porch somewhere on a hot summer’s evening. Is it a true story? You don’t know but you do want it to be.
Great film is about storytelling and Chico and Rita is a fabulous story.