CHICO & RITA (2010/2011 USA)
Directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando
Motion Pictures (Spain), US distribution by Disney
94 minutes, (In Spanish with spotty English subtitles)
I missed this one in the theater, but grabbed it on Netflix when several people recommended it. Wish I hadn’t. Everyone who recommended it is a jazz freak, and you probably need to be to appreciate this animated film from Spain. It was nominated for–but did not win–an Oscar in 2012.
It should have been better on many levels, starting with the animation, which seemed pretty ordinary given what we can do these days. There are several chase scenes and lots of musicianship and none of it looks realistic or dramatic. That’s fine, if one takes advantage of animation to do something experimental or dreamy. That’s simply not the case for most of what we see. (The only shimmery moments are, ironically, swirls of light dancing across Rita’s naked cartoon body.) Nor is the story as compelling as it might have been. There are three classic themes in the film: rags-to-riches, dramatic social change, and love won, lost, and regained. The story opens in Cuba in 1948, where Chico is a shoeshine boy who also happens to be a demon jazz pianist. When he spies flirty, saucy Rita, a chanteuse, it’s lust (then love) at first sight. Music and passion propel the characters and story from Havana to New York to Hollywood to Vegas and back to Havana (by which time the Cuban Revolution has occurred). The story arc is that of a tragic bolero and is imbued with ambition, misunderstanding, danger, revelation, regret, and remembrance.
Maybe it’s because I speak no Spanish and the subtitling was spotty, but much of what I wanted to know was not revealed, and most of what was revealed I could see coming miles down the road. If you are such a fan of jazz that you want to watch the ‘toons play the tunes of Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, and Dizzy Gillespie, you might find Chico & Rita more interesting. If that sounds dull, you and I are on the same keyboard.