It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Latin swing.It's been too long since we've seen a film so luscious that it practically whisks you away to another time, another place. The animated film (and Oscar nominee for best animated feature), Chico & Rita does just that.
Though its stunning artistic achievement by accomplished Spanish designer Javier Mariscal has every look of an animated movie, the rich storyline and passionate romantic element give off the emotion of a live action adult film (worthy of standing next to any great adult film).
Written and directed by acclaimed Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque Two Much), Chico & Rita tells the sweeping romance between the title characters, two star-crossed lovers whose musical ambitions nearly destroy their love for each other. Battling the throes of love and heartbreak, the couple's passionate affair transcends throughout the 1940s and 1950s, and from Havana to New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris.
Truebo teams with co-directors Mariscal and his brother Tono Errando to present easily one of the most beautiful love stories we've scene on screen in recent history, one that keenly captures the essence of Latin culture with its brilliantly drawn scenes and soulful tunes (even recreating the timeless music of jazz greats such as Dizzie Gillespie and Cole Porter). The result is a sophisticated throwback to old Hollywood glamour with a scorching Latin twist
But despite its unmistakable Latin flavor, Trueba admits that it was his love for American culture that sparked the story. "This movie is inspired by old Hollywood classic movies and love stories," he says. "Marlon Brando, Dizzie Gillespie, and the music and movies of that time. To me, this movie is very American."
And that's evident in the musical and emotional journey the film embarks on, which also makes it easy to forget it's animated and not a live action historical fiction saga. But all of that was on purpose, says Trueba, who never intended the film to be live action. He goes on to say, "Animation gives you an option to create something that live action doesn't." Adds Errando, "Animation forces you to give something of yourself; it's like poetry. We can tell any story. It is a good balance between artistry and realism "
It's that same sense of freedom that helped the veteran filmmakers create a movie that kept the characters and essence of Latin culture authentic, something that Cubans and cinema aficionados alike can be proud of. In fact, the trio spent weeks filming in Havana immersing themselves in the city to pick up some of its natural vibrancy. "We needed to capture the expression, their rhythm," reveals Mariscal (who proceeds at this time to get out of his chair and reenact everything from the the sway of their hips to the glide of their walk).
So rather than casting big Hollywood heavyweights to voice the main characters, like Penélope Cruz, who starred in Trueba's Belle Epoque, they went with local talents who helped bring the characters to life. "Eman and Limara are two of the best Cuban actors," says Trueba. Adds Mariscal: "The focus is to make the audience believe these characters."
That's one of the most impressive things about the film, how it makes every frame genuine, worthwhile and effortless. Down to casting a new wave of musicians to recreate the power ballads of three generations of Cuban musicians (rather than using archive records), to choosing a distinct palette for each era and location.
"We decided to create the story in the way of the bolero," says Mariscal. "Geography is very important for the story--Las Vegas, Marlon Brando, Broadway, Central Park, even the buildings [in New York City] were so important. Every sequence has its color." Adds Errando: "New York and Cuba were two characters."
"The movie is a sensory experience. Going to a theater should be like being taken somewhere," says Trueba. Chico & Rita is a fantasy. I want people to see its beauty, see something new."
Chico & Rita is playing in limited release at New York City's Angelika Film Center this weekend, before it expands nationally.
In case you're unfamiliar with the movie, watch the enchanting trailer below: