Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fernando Trueba's & Javier Mariscal's CHICO & RITA opens theatrically--at last

Three years ago during Spanish Cinema Now, TrustMovies found himself bemoaning the contribution of Fernando Trueba, a piece of high-toned twaddle called The Dancer and the Thief.  While he doesn't take back his dislike of that earlier film (gorgeous to view though it often was), he's delighted to be able to embrace Trueba's newer work, CHICO & RITA, an animated collabor-ation that the Oscar-wining director has created with the enormous contribution of designer/graphic artist Javier Mariscal -- which made is debut at Spanish Cinema Now the following year. Old-fashioned in the dearest of ways -- in its animation, characters, love story, music -- yet using, I think, some quite modern techniques (notice, two photos down, how sunlight streams into the room through the open, wooden window slats), the film provides 94 minutes of near-non-stop enchantment. Along with some wonderful music.

At the SCN press conference held at Instituto Cervantes the day before this series began, Trueba (shown above, left) explained that the real reason he wanted to do this film was to be able to work with and show off the art of Mariscal (above, right). Smart move. I'm not sure who did what (well, Mariscal certainly provided the artwork) but the collaboration comes off seamlessly.

A memory piece -- the fuse of which is lit by a song heard on the radio -- Chico & Rita takes our hero, a now elderly Chico, back to the 1940s when he was a hot young man and a very good piano player ("The best!" his agent/partner exclaims) and he first heard the sexy Rita sing Bésame Mucho. It's love at first sight & sound -- at least on Chico's part -- but being a man, he screws things up. Repeatedly. Rita takes a bit longer to give in, but once she gives, she never takes back.

Their love story -- simple, sweet, sour, and, yes, clichéd (but given the sensuous animation and music, those clichés goes down awfully easily) -- spans continents and hemispheres as the lovers connect, part, reconnect, part and... well, you get the point.

Along the way, we see pre-Castro Cuba in all its tawdry glory (there's even a car chase, or a car/motorcycle-cum-side-car chase, to be exact), and we move from the warm and languid island (below) to New York City in wintertime, two photos down -- the first sight of its neon lights is memorable one -- where Rita finds a new career and life.

While the animation seems relatively simple "line" style, with colors that are rich, bright and saturated, if I am not mistaken, Mariscal and Trueba use some modern effects, too: maybe just a bit of the "wavy" line effect we saw put to use in Linklater's Waking Life.

The movie seems relatively apolitical, as well, which may be a problem for some viewers. Though we 're made aware of the light-skin/dark skin color line that existed in Batista's time, we're also privy to how jazz became "the enemies' music" in the Castro era. Artists want their own kind of freedom, and this movie makes clear that they weren't exactly getting it, come the Revolution -- as most Cuban homosexuals of the period would also have declared.

You might want more from Chico & Rita, but -- for those of us of a certain age, at least -- there's plenty already in which we can bask. After its two Spanish Cinema Now showings, various festival successes, and its critical success in Britain (it was released in Spain only last February), it is finally getting a deserved theatrical release here in the USA, along with a nod from our motion picture academy as one of the five nominations for Best Animated Film. It opens this Friday, February 10, at New York's Angelika Film Center, with limited nationwide release to follow.

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