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Chico & Rita: Review

The days of animation resting in the children’s film genre is officially over. Dashing aside all conventions for the “cartoon,” Fernando Trueba’s Chico & Rita transcends its medium with a magically adult and sensual story about relationships, music, culture, and the importance of passion.

The film centers on three characters: Chico (Eman Xor Oña), an aspiring pianist; Rita (Limara Meneses), a singer with an incredible voice; and Havana in the year 1948. When Chico sees Rita performing in a nightclub, he immediately sets his sights on her for his partner in a competition that would bring the musical duo to New York City. Naturally, their partnership extends beyond piano keys and microphones, and their romance must battle the cultural and emotional obstacles characteristic of a classic love story.

Rather than being defined by the art, Chico & Rita’s animation and art style (spearheaded by illustrator Javier Mariscal) supports the story beautifully. The objects and characters seem to float through the sketched Havana without gravity, an effect that lends itself to scenes of dancing and music. Rita in particular is gracefully portrayed, a curvy temptress that floats from foot to foot, her body constantly shifting from one shape to another in a demonstration of extraordinarily illustrated femininity.

Perhaps the most impressive portrayal, however, is that of the city. The drawn images are remarkably detailed and richly colored. Due to the trembling animation style, the buildings appear to shift and shiver in the background, giving the impression that the city is living, breathing, participating.
This surrounding sense of color, movement, and energy goes on to support the generally vibrant tone of the film. The melancholy of the couples’ ballads, following in the bolero tradition, juxtaposes perfectly against the city’s frenetic energy. We can see from the calm elegance of their music that their love is something set apart from the hectic lives that exist in the background. The result is a very carefully painted picture that is balanced and engaging.

That Chico & Rita is a beautiful movie is clear from its opening frames; that it is a good movie is developed through every scene until the very end. While it may not add much to the classic romance formula, it works with the narrative devices that have served so well through history. In the end, it is a wonderful story of desire, both intellectual and physical, and the nature of the world, in which nothing comes easy.

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