Chico & Rita
Synopsis: In Havana in 1948, talented piano player, Chico, meets the even more talented and beautiful singer, Rita. The pair fall in love as they take the local nightclub scene by storm. However, as Rita’s career takes her to the dizzying heights of fame in the US, Chico finds he’s falling out of the picture. They can make beautiful musictogether, but can they make their own relationship last?
Animated musical romance strikes an off note.
SPANISH FILM FESTIVAL: Animated movies should follow the same basic rules in storytelling as live action, particularly in portraying characters whose actions are understandable if not always rational. That point is quite clearly lost on the makers of Chico & Rita.
This romantic musical defies logic with gay abandon as the protagonists, a Cuban jazz pianist and a voluptuous singer, fall in and out of love numerous times in the space of 60 years, rarely for any overtly sensible reason.
The movie co-directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando also miscues due to the curious decision to draw the characters’ faces as virtually featureless in contrast to the often intricate, vivid depiction of buildings, streets and skylines in Havana, New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas.
That it won the Best Animated Feature prize at the 2011 Spanish Film Academy’s Goya Awards probably says more about the country’s relatively meagre animated output than about the film’s merits.
Trueba and co-writer Ignacio Martínez de Pisón fashioned a fictional story inspired by the lives of some Cuban musicians, spiced with several famous American musos.
The opening introduces Chico (Emar Xor Oña) as a lonely old guy in Havana who ekes out a living shining shoes for tourists. It then flashes back to 1948 when he was a talented piano player. At a nightclub he sees and is instantly smitten by Rita (voiced by Limara Meneses but sung by Idania Valdes), a beautiful, curvaceous singer.
She gives him the brush off but he persists, and she melts when he tells her “I’ve been waiting for you all my life.” Their lovemaking scene is quite explicit but the sight of two naked animated characters bonking is hardly as arousing as flesh-and-blood trysts.
The next morning Chico’s fiery mistress Juana catches them, a catfight between the girls ensues, and Rita storms off. Chico wins her back and they form a duo to enter a talent contest but she’s then offered a job singing in New York by a smooth-talking American impresario named Ron.
This sends Chico into a jealous rage and back into Juana’s arms, and Rita sails off with Ron to New York, where she becomes a big star. Chico and his friend/manager Ramon (Mario Guerra) follow soon afterwards and he gets the chance to play with the Woody Herman Orchestra and, later in Paris, with Dizzy Gillespie.
In New York Chico meets Chano Pozo, based on the real-life Cuban percussionist, singer, dancer and composer who was involved with seedy types. Echoing his actual fate, the film shows Pozo being killed in a bar after a dispute over drugs. The narrative also makes some telling points about discrimination against coloured people in the ‘50s and ‘60s, which was to effectively end Rita’s career.
Chico hooks up again with Rita but fate conspires to separate them again after he’s betrayed by Ramon. There’s a happy, overly sentimental ending, but too often their behaviour is impulsive and irrational so it’s a stretch to believe the romance would endure over many decades.
The film’s best asset is the soundtrack by Bebo Valdés, an exuberant blend of soulful ballads, jazz and swing. Too bad that the one-dimensional characters and their romantic misadventures don’t match the power and clarity of the music.
Watch Films Online
Films on SBS TV
SBS Film Guide to...
Celebrate Australian filmmaking with this home-grown season. Starts May 25.
A month of movies with an edge. Saturday nights in April.