It seems that this film, like the story it is about, is due to love at first sight, a crush that took place six years before the premiere of the movie (2010) between the film director Fernando Trueba (Madrid) and the illustrator Javier Mariscal (Valencia). As a result of that ‘intercourse’ a love story arose, fairly conventional maybe, but brilliant when recreating the explosion of Latin jazz and salsa occurred during the 50’s in cities like New York and La Havana.
In Chico and Rita the music and the illustrations it is covered by are without a doubt the real strength of the film: We might leave aside the plot, the romance cliche between its two main characters, Chico the pianist and Rita the singer, whose life constantly meets and separates like a bolero. We could ignore too the rest of the characters, usually quite archetypical, necessary but far from brilliant or even interesting. The truth is that this movie is almost all about the successful and colorful recreation of an era and a social phenomenon, and its main characters are not actually two lovers called Chico and Rita, but the music and the great detail in which buildings, objects, clothes, cars, hairstyles or advertisements are represented, focusing especially in La Havana, but also extending to many other cities like New York, Los Angeles, Paris and Las Vegas.
Starting from the music and as one would probably expect in a film based on the rise of Latin jazz, Chico and Rita will surely delight fans of the genre with its soundtrack, composed by the great Cuban musician Bebo Valdes, whose life served in large part as inspiration for the story of Chico, the main male character. From this point of view, Trueba returned here again to the world of Latin music as it did with the documentary El Milagro de Candeal (The Miracle of Candeal, 2004), creating a work of visual and musical fusion with a festive, nostalgic and emotional flavor.
Visually talking, a unique piece
But together with the music there is the attractive visual job made by Mariscal and the use of outstanding animation techniques too. Here, Chico and Rita is just delicious, something the jury of the Goya awards was not unaware of, giving the movie an award for best animated film of the year. One of the reasons of its charm is a certain struggle going on between the real and the graph: the strong lines in black of the designs, the bright colors popping everywhere, and some other visual licenses give the artistic touch and continuously preserve the aesthetics of comics, while a mesmerizing and effective animation and the use of frames that mimic a conventional film camera recording give the counterpoint of realism.
Regarding the animation process and the realism, it should be said that, for example, in order to facilitate the animators of the Spanish-British team with the required optical information, real actors were used to record all the scenes of the film before bringing to life the pictured characters of the movie.
Beyond all this production counts with an intensive research made by Mariscal in order to capture the aesthetic of that time and to draw the cities accurately the way they were. In the case of La Havana, the greatest achievement of the film even to be considered itself as one of its protagonists, Mariscal could luckily benefit from an unexpected treasure: an archive of photographs from the Cuban government documenting every corner of the city since 1949, right when the plot of the movie begins.
Here it is, a perfect movie to enjoy when you feel like you want to see and hear something beautiful. Leave aside the option of a thrilling plot for another occasion.