Sunday, July 22, 2012

Chico y Rita

I TREATED MYSELF to a full-length Spanish animated film after I got back from church. Chico y Rita (Chico and Rita) is directed by Fernando Trueba and designed by Javier Mariscal, a Spanish graphic artist.

The movie is set in Havana, Cuba and New York City in the 1940's and 50's. Latin jazz was the prevailing music of the time, and Cuban singers and composers, if they were good enough, were given the privilege of performing in the best clubs in the USA.

Chico is a handsome pianist who dreams of making it big one day. He meets Rita, a club singer whose voice captivates him all at once. It occurs to him that he should convince Rita to join him in a contest where a 500-peso prize and a profitable contract are at stake. They win the contest, and American producers discover them.

Thus begins the romance which forms the movie's centerpoint: Chico, the lovelorn pianist, and Rita, the woman who changes him. As dark-skinned Cubans, they must wrestle with discrimination so prevalent in the US during the time period. They must also decide if they should pursue their ambition, even if that means they can never be together.

I can't quite explain this, but the film did not feel like an animation film at all—not with the feeling I'd usually get when I watch Disney or Pixar movies. Somehow it felt real; it sounded real.

They scenes were eye-candies, so soothing and interesting to the eyes, especially when the characters drove around Havana, with its busy streets and shops. It felt nostalgic somehow: I was reminded of the photos of Manila in the 1950's, the days when the country looked clean and orderly and showed so much promise. Now Manila looks like a land of missed opportunities. What used to be architectural marvels now stand as dilapidated buildings about to be demolished.

And the music! Oh, how I fell for the songs, mostly Cuban jazz with original compositions of the pianist Bebo Valdes. Rita singing Bésame Mucho was hauntingly beautiful, and so were the performances of the Latin bands.

The movie is bittersweet, a reminder that good things eventually come to those who wait, and, as corny as this may sound, that true love prevails in the end.



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