Oscar’s Best Nominee: Chico & Rita
(trailer here), the winner of 2011 European Film Award for best animated feature and a surprise Academy Award nominee, which opens this Friday in New York.
Chico is a Bebop influenced piano player and something of ladies man. Rita is a beautiful and talented vocalist. During their first inauspicious meeting, sparks fly and maybe a few faces are slapped. However, when Rita reluctantly sings Chico’s newest song in a radio competition, it is magical. Suddenly, Chico & Rita are the act to book. They also start to admit their mutual attraction, but circumstances keep getting in their way.
Before long, Rita is signed by an American producer, who whisks her away to New York. Chico eventually follows her, hoping to gain entree into the jazz scene through his old compatriot, Chano Pozo, whose tenure in Dizzy Gillespie’s band led to the creation of the so-called Cu-bop fusion of Bebop and Afro-Latin Jazz. Of course, those who are familiar with their jazz history know Pozo is not long for this Earth. Likewise, Chico and Rita’s rekindled romance appears equally ill-fated.
Movie musicals do not get much cooler than C&R. Yet, it is also deeply romantic. To their credit, the filmmakers do not ignore the grim realities of Castro’s Cuba either, depicting the mean living standards, frequent blackouts, and official government suppression of that “imperialist” music called jazz. Indeed, this is especially surprising in a contemporary Spanish film, though C&R duly and fairly decries the American racial segregation of the era as well, maintaining an ideological balance.
While C&R sounds fantastic, it also looks great. Rejecting strict realism, animation designer Mariscal’s figures compellingly evoke the spirit of Art Deco and Old Havana. In contrast, C&R’s backdrops are often much more detailed, giving the audience a virtual tour of the city at the height of its lost glory.
A Cat in Paris. Very highly recommended, C&R opens this Friday (2/10) in New York at the Angelika Film Center.