Chico & Rita (2010)
Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire to make it big. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about passion for music.
Similar to La La Land, Chico & Rita is a story about an aspiring singer/actress (Rita) and an aspiring jazz musician (Chico) who meet quite by chance and fall in love. They both have ambitions to make it really big in show business and see each other’s careers skyrocketing or plummeting as the years go by. They witness their professional ambitions tearing them apart and they ultimately have to choose between following their heart (love) or following their musical dream (professional realisation). When Chico and Rita first meet in 1948, it seems that Chico only wants to make friends with Rita because his band needs a good singer to win a competition, but his heart also becomes “involved” – and “involved” deeply. Rita’s career takes her from hot and poverty-stricken Havana to snowy and affluent New York City, and then further to Paris, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as Chico remains in the background, longing constantly for his lost muse.
Though the animation sometimes appears too primitive, it has some beautiful background sequences where every detail is drawn with an incredible accuracy. The music written by Bebo Valdés (1918 – 2013), a Cuban pianist, is also great, and, interestingly, some real characters make their way into this fictional story, including Chano Pozo (1915-1948), who was in reality a jazz percussionist, singer and composer from Cuba, whose tragic and mysterious demise on the streets of New York in 1948 is also covered in the story.
On the negative side, most of the main characters’ decisions in the story are more than bewildering and, rather than “bad luck” or “sad accident”, Chico and Rita’s fate could something be attributed to their bad temper, stubbornness and very silly misunderstanding. Thus, rather than being truly heart-breaking and sad, their story is often simply frustrating.
Though sometimes more than a tad exasperating, Chico & Rita is also a potent love story about the connecting power of music and its ability to change lives. 7/10