Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chico & Rita

Love, Music And Magic, In 1950's Havana, New York and Beyond

Rita, voiced by Limara Meneses, in Havana Square in Cuba in Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal's award-winning animated film "Chico & Rita". 
GKids.TV/Hanway Films


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Thursday, February 16
, 2012

Incredibly rich in detail and teaming with passion and emotion, "Chico & Rita" is a beautiful, vibrant love story that pulses with energy and wonderful music.  Fernando Trueba, the Oscar-winning director, and Javier Mariscal, a highly-skilled, renowned artist and animator, create a gorgeous, eye-popping spectacle of color and sparkle that pays great tribute to Cuban music and artists, to 1940s and 50s Hollywood, Las Vegas and the glamour and electricity of New York City.  The hand-drawn animated film, which expands its release to several additional U.S. cities on Friday, including San Francisco, won Spain's Goya Award in 2011 for best animated feature film and is nominated this year for an Academy Award in the same category.

Chico, an unheralded but talented pianist and composer who is the toast of Havana, suddenly gets his moment as a fill-in with a band, and he improvises to perfection, becoming a superstar musician almost overnight.  He locks eyes with sultry singing sensation Rita (voiced by Limara Meneses) and they begin a torrid love affair that rolls through thick and thin.  Meticulously crafted, "Chico & Rita" takes you on a nostalgia ride ala "The Artist" only with deeper resonance. 

Where "The Artist" floated on a magic carpet, Mr. Trueba and Mr. Mariscal's film takes you on a musical tour, and you live and breathe every place that you stay in on the trip.  Played in flashbacks, an older Chico goes down memory lane recalling the days of his youth and his piano-playing majesty, and of his true love, Rita, who like Peppy Miller of "The Artist" has enormous talent and quickly gets swept into stardom on the big stage, leaving Chico in the dust, wallowing in decline and mediocrity.  In "Chico & Rita" are odes to "Casablanca" and numerous other films, and glimpses of the one and only Josephine Baker as the film travels to Paris.

"Chico & Rita" moves effortlessly through time and place and fills the heart with joy, beauty and entertainment.  We are aware of the unique history between these lovers and are driven to their romance, which at times plays like pure pageantry.  It's funny to say this, but: Bogey & Bacall.  Hepburn & Tracy.  Chico & Rita.  Laugh, but that is exactly how I saw this tumultuous twosome fit in as I watched.  And they are much racier and sexier, what with full-frontal nudity, sex scenes and the like. 

I've often said -- and I'm not the only one who has said it -- that animated films are made for adults, not children, and certainly made with an adult sensibility if nothing else.  "Chico & Rita" is indeed such a film: 100% adult.  Some may say, "why is the nudity necessary?", but "Chico & Rita" is a full-blooded adventure across decades that captures the feelings and boundless ambitions of its title characters.  There's the longing, the loving, the loathing and the loneliness.

Too often animated films offer a surface level glance at the lives of its adults, constraining them to the fine point of their literal purpose or function in a story as neutered, sexless adult figures who wear tight smiles or stiff upper lips, whether in a parental capacity or otherwise.  Rarely if ever, do they appear to have fun, unless in a fantasy or a dream. 

It's worth noting that this film isn't called "Chico & Rita Go To The Supermarket"; it's called "Chico & Rita".  And nine times out of ten, any long-time relationship between an adult man and an adult woman at some point or other will involve sex, or at the very least, sexual tension.  This film smolders with sex, tension and the scent of an unmistakable spice and flavor, and is honest about its intentions as a film that celebrates life, love and music as the food that bonds souls throughout time.

The music, be it of Armstrong, Parker, Cole and abundant Afro-Cuban rhythms among others, enriches the film and enhances its magical, effervescent journey.  A mildly violent moment signifies legendary Latin jazz pioneer Chano Pozo, who died in such a manner during a dispute in a bar in New York City in 1948.  Mr. Pozo was just 33, though he looks a lot older in animated form in "Chico & Rita".  The salute to Mr. Pozo typifies the reverence and immense respect he engendered.  It's a brief tribute but celebratory and sincere, as is this great film, which is hands down the best animated film of the past year, meriting this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar.  "Chico & Rita" is alive in much the same manner "La Dolce Vita" was, every step of the way.

With the voices of: Eman Xor Oña, Mario Guerra.

"Chico & Rita" is not rated by the Motion Picture Association Of America but contains nudity including full frontal female nudity, sexual content, including relatively explicit sex scenes and violence.  The film is in the Spanish language with English language subtitles.  The film's running time is one hour and 34 minutes. 

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