Movie PickMovies

Movie Pick

CHICO & RITA (NR) His memories triggered by one of his songs playing on Cuban radio, elderly jazz pianist Chico (Eman Xor Oña) recalls his up-and-down romance with the fiery and talented singer Rita (Limara Meneses). It is 1948 when Chico falls hard for Rita, after hearing her sing in a swanky Havana nightclub. Their relationship, however, frays when Rita’s career blooms in New York City as a great vocalist and later in Hollywood as an actress, while Chico bumps along in America and Europe playing music with some of the greats of jazz. All the while, their lives continue to intersect.

Directed by famed Spanish graphic designer/artist Javier Mariscal, award-winning filmmaker Fernando Trueba and Tono Errando, Chico & Rita is a rarity: an animated movie truly for adults. So many animated features in this country are designed to appeal to both children and their parents, striving for a middle ground between kid-friendly wholesomeness and enough pop culture references sprinkled throughout to keep the grownups’ eyes from glazing over. Unlike the comics medium, which routinely focuses on adult-oriented subjects and themes, animated movies here rarely stray from that niche. Chico & Rita refreshingly does (nudity, drug use and general hellraising are tastefully depicted), and it could have easily been a live-action feature, but the animation adds a stylistic depth that perfectly visualizes the earthy warmth of the Cuban locale and heightens the emotional complexity of the characters’ central story. It also dynamically accentuates the plentiful jazz score courtesy of Bebo Valdés and others, capturing an era when bebop, big band and Cuban music filled the air and were a passport to hipness (before that word became a pejorative term) and cool. Mariscal’s expressionistic design of city streets, neon signs and lavish clubs feels historically accurate yet exaggerated in a way entirely appropriate. It pulsates with the music and the subjective emotions of the film’s characters. It feels like jazz. It’s easily the best non-documentary jazz movie in a long time, which is no small accolade considering how rare finding a good one is. Yes, Chico & Rita‘s storyline is clichéd and arguably wouldn’t hold up if it had been undertaken as a live-action production. But anyone who loves this music passionately and who’s ever felt drunk on love should fall under Chico & Rita‘s spell.


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