Chico & Rita (3 stars)

Chico & Rita

(15) 93min

This Spanish-made, English-language, feature-length animation joins the ever-growing list of highly unconventional, beautifully realised, adult-oriented cartoons made outside of America that also includes The Illusionist, Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis. Co-conceived and directed by filmmaker Fernando Trueba (Belle Époque), artist and designer Javier Mariscal and promo/ad-maker Tono Errando, it’s a love story set against the backdrop of Havana and New York in the late 1940s and 50s, a key time for popular music when Latin rhythms and modern jazz were fusing to create a new kind of sound.

Trueba conceived the story of Chico & Rita as a bolero, a Latin ballad about heartache, in which the young Cuban couple would meet in Havana, make love and music together (he’s an aspiring pianist, she’s a fledgling singer) and subsequently be separated and reunited repeatedly as their music careers take off and they leave Havana for New York and then Las Vegas, Paris and Hollywood.

The animation style, cartoon-y but detailed, is richly evocative of the era and locations in which the story takes place. As befits a film that’s as much about music as it is about romance famous musicians of the day appear in a series of cameos, among them, Dizzy Gillespie, Gillespie’s Cuban Congo player Chano Pozo, Charlie Parker and Nat King Cole. Unsurprisingly, the soundtrack is fantastic, its featured classic tunes reworked by contemporary musicians under the leadership of Bebo Valdés, the veteran Cuban pianist/bandleader – and partial inspiration for Chico – whom Trueba reintroduced to international audiences in his documentary Calle 54.

Selected release from Fri 19 Nov.

Chico & Rita

  • 3 stars
  • 2010
  • Spain / UK
  • 15
  • Directed by: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal
  • Cast: Lenny Mandel, Limara Meneses

Beautiful Spanish adult animation relating the bolero romance of a young aspiring pianist and fledgling singer who fall in love in 1940s Havana and later meet again as their careers take them across the world from Paris to Hollywood.