Chico and Rita Film Review by Sam Newton

Sam Newton, our resident film reviewer from Citizens Eye, reviews the  fluidly animated feature- Chico and Rita.

Chico and Rita is a film in love with Cuba, in love with jazz and in love with love. And as with love it’s a giddy, tender and dazzling experience but equally a little fool-hardy and naive. This is stimulating and seductive cinema that blazes up sooner that fade away.

Charting the love affair of pianist Chico and jazz-singer Rita against the backdrop of 1940’s jazz, the film dances from city to city: From the bustling streets of Havana to the dizzying lights of New York and Las Vegas, bristling and excitable for the Latin revolution of jazz.

The film is as much about the moment, the city and the music as it is about its characters, if not ultimately more so. The energy with which the sumptuously fluid and vibrant animation brings a city alive is genuinely thrilling. Rarely do the neon-advertisements of Central Square inspire such wonderment on celluloid, or the luminous New York nightscape such quiet admiration. But the film is at its most exhilarating in Cuba: Rushing, sweeping and swerving through the streets of Havana at the film’s start is an invigorating head-spin. The unique combination of hand-drawn animation and CG spaces brings alive the dimensions and energies of the city and it’s irresistibly immersive. The verve and unadulterated joy of these opening 30 minutes makes fantastic cinema and it’s a dizzying standard that the film never quite recaptures.

The reason is that while the music and visuals continue to enchant, the plot and its characters are unable to uphold the drama to match the films sensational style. Essentially Chico and Rita is an incredibly brilliant visual tribute to Latinate jazz onto which a very simply love story is spun. The early romances and tribulations of Chico and Rita’s affair are touching and beautifully heartfelt, but beyond these initial scenes the relationship lacks emotional development outside of on/off flings and yearning absence. The story simply isn’t sure-footed enough so when the film inevitably comes to rely upon its emotional core it is suddenly all too apparent that we were never really invested.

That is not to say Chico and Rita’s characters are not enjoyable. The dialogue is fiery and witty, and meeting the different peoples and jazz legends that populate the cities always draws a wide smile. Chico’s best friend, Ramon, is a delightful comic presence throughout and their heart-racing time spent with legendary percussionist Chano Pozo in his final hours is utterly electrified by his eccentric presence and sublimely fearsome animation. As a result the film will inevitably have its aficionados coming back just to hang out in jazz bars with its colourful characters, if not simply to look at them.

The sheer brilliance of the animation in Chico and Rita cannot be overstated. The fluidity of its vague outlines and intensity of its colours are powerfully seductive in their movements. Nowhere is this truer than in the rhythmic figure of Rita. The animators seem to have fallen for their subject and it’s easy to see why: the vivacious strength of her character becomes hopelessly hypnotic within the loose curves and lines of her movement. And really that is what the whole film does so well: It captures, unrivalled, that entrancing marriage of vibrant art and rhythm.

Like a love affair Chico and Rita will be fondly remembered and revisited for its excitement, its peerless passions and vitality, the only regret being that it hadn’t meant that bit more.

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