“Chico y Rita” (2010) streaming now!

22 October 2012

This beautiful, not-for-children animated film about two Cuban musicians isn’t something you watch for high drama or a particularly riveting love story. You watch this for the beautiful, cinematic animation and the way it captures to an extraordinary degree the world of late 1940s Habana and Nueva York, especially the music scenes in those two American cities. Watching this film is like sipping a beautiful, complex Scotch: steady pleasure throughout. This is animation for the cinéastic music lover. And it’s streaming on Netflix and YouTube (see below).

Let me hasten to say that the filmmakers, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, don’t use flashy techniques or 3-D or anything else to trick you into thinking you’re seeing some kind of advancement in animation techniques. Chico y Rita is Old School. Looking at the images I’ve pulled, you might even wonder why I’m so enthusiastic about it, especially after downplaying the love story between jazz pianist/ composer Chico and luscious singer Rita.

Suffice it to say that the animation is so much more than the sum of its parts. When we see a car chase, it’s thrilling the way movie car chases ought to be. When it’s a room full of dancers, they move and sway slightly more slowly and gracefully than in real life, just as movie dancers ought to, and they seem to part for the camera when we need a glimpse of our main characters. The light is always somehow just right, capturing the differences between a lightbulb in a room versus a spotlight in a club.

Sure, the love story is a bit … bland? It follows the boy meets girl, boy loses girl pattern of a late 1940s film. One wishes the scope had been larger, or more complicated, or the two characters less stereotyped. Still, they function as larger-than-life types: Chico’s full lips, and Rita’s ka-razy curvacious hips, such that overall it transfixes you with the pleasure of watching.  I found the story around them more interesting — the urban landscapes, the history of jazz in that era, the steady trade in music and tourists between the US and Cuba during that pre-revolutionary world.

Aw, hell, just watch it. And maybe pour yourself a Scotch to go with it.

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