CGI and 3D are now the default settings for animation (more’s the pity, some would argue), but Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba has gone against the grain to create Chico & Rita, a charmingly old-fashioned hand-drawn animated movie in which a heartbreaking tale of star-crossed love unfolds against a fabulous jazz soundtrack.
Told in flashback from the vantage of the present day, the story opens in late-1940s Havana, where ambitious young jazz pianist Chico falls for beautiful singer Rita. They enjoy a night of passion, inspiring Chico to write a hit song, but as Rita’s career takes off, taking her to New York, Las Vegas and Hollywood, fate separates them – yet neither can forget their tempestuous love affair.
Trueba won a Best Foreign Film Oscar winner for his 1992 period comedy Belle Epoque, in which the turbulent history of 1930s Spain provided the backdrop for a young army deserter’s light-hearted erotic escapades with a landowner’s four beautiful daughters. In Chico & Rita, the post-war era’s politics play a bigger role in the story, with racial discrimination in the US and the Cuban revolution conspiring to keep the lovers apart.
It’s the music, though, that provides the film’s spine. Trueba, working in collaboration with artist and designer Javier Mariscal, has come up with a stylish and sensual movie that celebrates Cuban music and showcases the impact that Latin rhythms made on post-war jazz. The character of Chico is loosely based on legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer Bebo Valdés and he supplies the film’s original soundtrack, as well as Chico’s singing voice. If you fell in love with Buena Vista Social Club, you’ll certainly be seduced by Chico & Rita.
Chico & Rita is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 9th May by Icon Home Entertainment.