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Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

FOR co-creators Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba, animated feature Chico & Rita is a labour of love that’s difficult not to become seduced by.

Inspired by their passion for the music and culture of Cuba, and set during the heyday of the jazz scene in the 1940s and 1950s, it’s a beautiful snapshot of a classic – and yet somehow almost forgotten – moment in time; a film that marries fascinating historical insight with a fairytale but adult take on romance.

The film follows the story of cocky but endearing pianist Chico as he bids to woo and win Rita, a similarly free-spirited singer with a voice to die for.

They first meet and fall for each other in a Havana bar but their romance is continually thwarted by circumstance: either by Chico’s other, fiercely protective lover, or Rita’s decision to move to New York to pursue a great career opportunity.

Smitten, Chico follows but soon finds that Rita’s success puts a strain on their relationship, and eventually winds up back in Cuba a lonely man wracked by regret.

The romantic element of the story does, admittedly, follow a tried and tested formula, but it’s refreshing to see it told through an animated medium that uses an adult approach. This isn’t for kids.

But what really sets Chico & Rita apart is its heart-on-sleeve homage to the golden era of Cuban jazz. It’s an element that binds the film and gives it a rich sense of history and wonder… with past greats such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie rubbing shoulders with the seminal (but long since overlooked) likes of famed pianist Bebo Valdes and Chano Pozzo.

The music is rich, evocative of Havana’s passion and zest for life and utterly memorable, imbuing the film with a life that’s bigger than celluloid (and deservedly so). There will be many who want to rush out and buy the soundtrack.

Chico & Rita is also notable for the way in which the once Oscar-nominated Trueba also manages to bring Mariscal’s world-famous artistry and design to the big screen, creating a lavish mix of magic and realism to his depiction of the different but united worlds of Cuba and New York.

There is a richness and beauty to the look of the film that is similarly impossible to forget, and which goes hand in hand with the music.

Hence, if anything the storytelling is perhaps the weakest link… but something that both Mariscal and Trueba more than compensate for given the charming nature of their production as a whole.

It is another fine example of why the animated genre continues to feature some of the most creative and memorable works of any given year.

In English and Spanish, with subtitles

Certificate: 15
Running time: 94mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: May 9, 2011