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Friday, 13 April 2012 00:00

"Chico and Rita" Swing to Jazz

"Chico and Rita" Swing to Jazz libertasfilmmagazine.com
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando
  • Dates: Opens April 13, 2012

A lovely pairing of first-rate animation and well-chosen jazz makes the Spanish film Chico and Rita a multifaceted pleasure, despite a conventional scenario. Set primarily in Cuba in the late 40s and early 50s, the story begins with an elderly Chico remembering the love of his life, the mellifluous-voiced singer Rita.

The love-struck Chico pursues Rita after accidentally crossing paths with her at a Havana nightclub and just as fortuitously is drafted to play the piano when the pianist gets sick. Long story short, Chico and Rita become a successful pair. But though Chico professes his passion for Rita, his current lover refuses to leave gracefully, motivating Rita to strike out on her own with an equally untrustworthy manager, Ramon. Immensely talented, Rita soon beguiles audiences in New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas. A contrite Chico will pursue her with heavy heart and, even decades later, dwell on the love of his life.

Co-directors Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Tono Errando fail to add creative dimensions to a trite tale, but their animation enlivens it nonetheless. Chico and Rita move through rich backdrops with distinctive, nicely detailed venues. In fact, the colorful backdrops have such busy, eye-catching activity that they upstage the clichéd characters in several instances. Adding pleasure for any jazz lover, the music expresses jazz's glory days with the brilliant musicians represented including Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Cole Porter, Woody Herman and Freddy Cole. Rita's vocals by Idania Valdes and Chico's piano playing further enhance the mood and texture of the star-crossed lovers' difficulties. Most exciting, legendary Cuban musician Bebo Valdés, who played piano in Havana clubs in the 40s and 50s, composed original music for the soundtrack. The film is dedicated to him, now in his mid-90s.

An appealing energy and pleasant pace propel events that capture the racist and sexist time period as well as the musical rhythms. Though it's animation, this feature film is not for children since the mature subject matter includes a few explicit sex scenes, with, as typical, female nudity. Chico and Rita won Spain's top animated feature film award, the Goya, in 2011 and was nominated for an Academy Award as well. In Spanish with English subtitles. At a Landmark Theatre.

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