Director: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba | Runtime: 1h 34mins | Animation, Drama, Romance | Language; English/Spanish
Piano player Chico (Eman Xor Ona) and singer Rita (Limara Meneses) fall in love during a night of drinking and music, and eventually begin a musical duo together. Through mistakes and misunderstandings, their paths drastically change when they both end up in New York City.
Rarely do you get to see a film that oozes the sexiness and style as well as Chico & Rita, as it’s romance fluctuates between a sun-kissed Havana and a free spirited New York in the 1940s. This is mostly down to the quality of the animation, a hand drawn detail of each place the movie finds itself, as well as a score that continually flows through each scene even when the singing has stopped and the arguing has begun. But this is a story about romance, following the deep-rooted love that Chico and Rita feel for each other, and the infuriating stubbornness that both have.
The film is very quick to build chemistry between the two characters, as Chico notices her tantalising singing voice in a lively club in Havana, everyone else is the place quickly disappears from his view. While the ‘only girl in the room’ direction is slightly overplayed, when it works it really works. That’s mostly thanks once again to the animation and music, as the liveliness dies and the soft and beautiful voice Rita has fills the screen. It gives her personality without really making her speak, and Chico’s head over heels expression really hits home this first interaction between the two. Although it does take some time the two eventually do spend the night together, and even if it is interrupted by one of Chico’s previous lovers, everything before is as romantic as anything you’ll ever see.
As the two endure each other’s jealousy and attitudes, they eventually break apart as Rita gets a huge opportunity to be a star in New York. While the animation is consistent, notice the slight change in presentation. No longer using the warmth of their home in Havana, New York’s streets are a little damper, a change in animation that matches the tone of the film. Not only that, but once the two do reconnect for the first time, there’s a taste of home for both characters. What follows is two separate journeys as Rita is propelled into stardom, and Chico navigates the jazz culture in the US and tries to make ends meat.
There is such a change in tone between Havana and New York it could become disorientating, but the common denominator is the beauty in the music. Chico being a piano player himself, he runs into famous jazz musicians, and often treats us to a small piano intermission playing the ‘Rita’ song he wrote the first time he met her. The music is probably strongest attribute the film has, using it for a range of reasons, and to expert effect. Whether it be the spirit of Havana, the overwhelming pace of New York City or the solemn reflection that an older Chico has in his lonely apartment in Havana. The music fills the movie with so much life, but never takes away from the wonderful journey unfolding in front of you.
The biggest downfall that they movie has is in it’s stubborn misunderstandings, the circumstantial qualms that push the story, and also in Chico’s complete disregard for his own shortcomings as a person. His lack of apologies and constant mistakes make for quite an infuriating watch, but each circumstance is built in the movies reality. They might feel like cheap ways to get to the next checkpoint in the story, but as the movie makes clear this is Chico reflecting on his biggest regrets, and whether or not the movie meant to highlight Chico’s shortcomings, it works. But through all the circumstance it does lead to an ending that’s earned through both it’s beautiful moments of romance and heartbreaking separation.
Chico & Rita might be infuriating with it’s characters actions, but it’s a film that fully embraces the story it’s telling. With a free spirited jazz score and detailed animation, it creates a romance deep-rooted in tragedy and head-over-heels love, one that’s created the very second the two interact with each other.