Film Review: Chico & Rita (Manipulate Festival)

Rating (out of 5)
Show details
Fernando Trueba, Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal (Directors); Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, Fernando Trueba (writers)
Limara Meneses (Rita), Eman Xor Oña (Chico), Mario Guerra (Ramón)
Running time

One of the animation components in the Manipulate Visual Theatre Festival, running at The Traverse, was Chico & Rita, a certificate 15, feature film set in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Released in  2010, the romantic drama, which is in Spanish with English subtitles, has been nominated for a 2012 Oscar for Animation.

It tells the star-crossed, love story that runs throughout the lives of Chico, a cool and talented pianist, and Rita, a gorgeous singer and has as its backdrop Havana itself, New York, and Paris. Along with the love story runs the story of the start of a radical fusion of musical styles between Cubans and Americans.

From its opening scenes showing Chico as an old man looking back nostalgically over his life and love, I was hooked and in no time almost forgot I was watching an animation, such was the evocation in these beautiful drawings.

My disbelief was thoroughly suspended as I was transported to a glamorous 1948 through sultry colours and incredible perspective. The cityscapes were full of astonishing detail, that leave the jaw well and truly dropped. These figures managed to seem utterly alive and thoroughly sympathetic which is enormous credit to their creators.  Imagine mere drawings being sexy, adult and believable - that is Chico and Rita!

Award-winning Spanish director Fernando Trueba's film is about music and Cuban and American music feature strongly throughout.  I am no expert on these specific genres and their history and am not a big jazz fan, but was so lost in the story and the breath-taking animation that showed these big bands playing and producing the contemporary sounds that I found myself enjoying it.

I learned in the Mark Kermode interview with Simon Mayo on Radio 5 that live musicians were used for these scenes rather than recordings of the time and this actually gave a more realistic feel although the big names such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Chano Pozo and Thelonius Monk featured fantastically as characters in the film as the new age of music came in to being. (I trust Mr Kermode managed to spot the New York advert for the car company Dodge Brothers, now the name for his skiffle group.)

This is an enrapturing and emotional film full of the fabulous animated detail of glamour, beauty, car chases, sex, murder and of course music that I am thrilled to have seen on the (relatively!) big screen but reckon a DVD will be going on the shopping list.

Screened as part of the Manipulate Festival on 31 Jan 2012; Manipulate also screened Waltz With Bashir on 1 February.