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Chico and Rita

To my utter delight, Chico and Rita has been nominated for an Oscar (Best Animation, no less1) which is about time. Given that it’s now available on DVD for about a fiver, I wonder what took them so long, but then the Oscars have never been very good at noticing foreign films.

So why does the Spanish language, animated feature film set in Cuba just before Castro happens deserve an Oscar? Well, probably because it’s one of the most beautifully rendered love stories ever to make it to screen. This is a tale of jazz pianist Chico and talented singer Rita, and how they try and escape their hum-drum lives to create something beautiful. It’s rich and evocative of pre-Castro Cuba, and though it romanticises that period in history, it’s also very blunt about the politics of the time. (Though this is not the focus of the feature).

Apparently, designer Javier Marisca created Rita in a dream. I can believe that.

It’s a tale filled with fiery latin passion, fantastic music (jazz, but don’t let that put you off) and eye-poppingly gorgeous moments. One particular scene practically sizzles on the screen. The characters are drawn in a strongly European comic-book style 2, each character oozing with their key character traits. (Rita drips sex-appeal, Chico is filled with pride and bravado). The art is lovingly detailed and it’s the sort of feature that reveals fresh things on repeated viewings.

Animation is at its most flexible and amazing when it uses the medium to create unique worlds. Chico and Rita exist in an idealised form of the Cuban music scene of the time. Cigar smoke wraps around the singers just so, the pianists are always impeccably dressed and the entire place is filled with beautiful people. At its core though, it’s a movie about what happens when art and passion meet and fall in love.

Spanish speakers will find some of the subtitled translation amusing, as they’ve (thankfully) gone for context-based translation over a more literal interpretation. This is a life affirming, thrilling little feature that I urge everyone to watch. If you find yourself in need of cheering up, I recommend it, though do bring the tissues; it’s as emotional as it is fiery.


1: It’s up against Kung Fu Panda Two and Puss in Boots amongst others. Frankly, those two movies, though nice, pale in comparison to this one. Kung Fu Panda may be all about confidence, and Puss In Boots certainly has a strong hint of passion, but seriously, Chico and Rita is the better work of art, and will dance a bolero around the competition.

2: If you’ve ever read the confusingly titled magazine “Heavy Metal”, you’ll know what I mean. Self Made Hero do produce a comic book version of Chico and Rita as well, and it’s worth your time; what it lacks in movement and music it makes up in artwork.

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Categories: Movies, Reviews
  1. February 8, 2012 at 5:29 am

    It’s nice to see that this film is finally getting some distribution in the U.S. after its Best Animated Feature nomination at the Academy Awards.

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