Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Chico & Rita (2012) ****

NR, 94 min.
Directors: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
Writers: Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Fernando Trueba
Voices: Eman Xor Oña, Limara Meneses, Mario Guerra

Sometimes when I see certain animated movies, I can’t help but thinking that animation is a medium that is largely untapped. It frees the filmmaker of so much, and yet they can tell the same types of stories as any movie. Take this year’s Academy Award nominated animated feature “Chico & Rita” for instance. It tells an adult love story amongst the backdrop of the Havana music scene as it was shaping the American Jazz scene in 1948. That sounds like something a director like Martin Scorsese might make into live action, but here some Spanish filmmakers have chosen animation for their medium to tell this story, and how much richer that does make it.

In it we meet Chico as an old man living in Castro’s Cuba, barely making a living as a show shiner. He remembers fondly the days before the revolution when he was a young jazz pianist dreaming of getting to America given the right channels. He’s out with his manager and friend Ramón one night at a local street club when he sees and hears Rita sing for the first time and it is love at first sight. He knows Rita is the key to his own success, but personal infidelities and miscommunications get in the way even though the couple lands a month long gig at the Tropicana through a radio contest.

Their on again off again love affair takes them to New York and Chico meets legendary jazz men like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, while Rita latches onto to a powerful manager who lands her starring roles in Hollywood movies. All the while the two are drawn to each other, but never seem to be at the right spot at the right time to be together.

The whole affair is a dream journey for any jazz enthusiast. The beautiful animation only adds to the music in such a way that even if you don’t know a thing about jazz, you’ll come out craving more of it. The animation also allows for a heightened sense of adventure to go along with this love story. There’s a thrilling car chase through the streets of Havana. There’s a wonderful dream sequence when Chico imagines what New York will be like. But mostly there’s a whimsy to the animation that could never be replicated in live action. 

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