Sat 30 Jun 2012
Hard to put ‘Chico & Rita’ is an a category and this is a testimony of the fact that animated movies, even those that are created in the ‘classical’ 2-D format like this one transcend nowadays genres and express more and more different emotions and messages. Walt Disney (the guy who authored Fantasia) would have been delighted. ‘Chico & Rita’ is a musical (with wonderful Cuban and jazz music), a melodrama, and a political film. All packaged in a beautiful and colorful wrapping which makes it a pleasure to watch and listen to.
I should say that the animation is not the best side of the film, and probably stills look better than the movie itself. In the epoch when so many animation tools are available at the cost of a laptop accessible to any college student this may have been an intentional decision. On the contrary, a lot of effort was deployed into reconstituting the time and the places of the action – the Havana of the 1940s and 50s and in present times, the New York and the Las Vegas (and for a few sequences the Paris) of the clubs where some of the best music ever was created by such giants as Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker or Duke Ellington.
The film is also a pseudo-biography, but here we need to be careful. The torrid love story between the pianist Chico and the singer Rita, which starts in the Cuba of the last decade before the Communist take-over and continues tracking them while they try to make their way in the US of the 50s may be loosely based on the characters of two real time musicians (Bebo Valdes who actually wrote the original music in the film and Rita Montaner who was the star of the Tropicana club in Havana and then had a short but spectacular career in the US). However the real life paths of the two were different than the ones described in the film, Bebo Valdes lived after 1960 out of Cuba, while Rita Montaner died in 1958.
To some extent the ‘Chico & Rita’ reminded me the wonderful Israeli animated film ‘Waltz with Bashir’ by Ari Folman. As there, at some point in time I lost the difference between film with actors and animation and I completely immersed in the story (and the music in this case). ‘Chico & Rita’ also tries to tell a story that is human, but also has a strong political message. Beyond the world-wide success in the last 10-15 years of the Cuban musicians lies a more complex and sometimes tragical story of the sparkling culture of music, entrainment, night life that was put on freeze or sent in exile for many decades by the Communist regime in Cuba. It was rediscovered starting with the 90s when Cuba slowly started to re-open to the world, but how many destinies of musicians were cut short or annihilated in these years. The true story of those years is yet to be told, written and brought to screens. It is important is that the music survived and is now back for anyone to enjoy, including those who will see this movie.