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Chico & Rita

Great jazz  causes most people to tap their feet and smile but it inspires a few to levels of obsession and inspiration unmatched by almost any other genre of music.  (Oddly, the only form of music that comes close is hardcore metal.)  If you don’t know who Chano Pozo, Machito, or Woody Herman are, you’ll enjoy this “Chico and Rita.”  If you do, you’ll be in heaven while watching it.

Rita in Havana

Set in Pre-Castro Cuba, it’s the story of two passionate musicians – pianist Chico and singer Rita(Rita’s songs are performed by Cuban singer Idania Valdés, the daughter of Buena Vista Social Club’s percussionist Amadito Valdés, while her dialogue is by Limara Meneses.) They spar a little when they first meet – she pushes him away, but he comes right back – but it’s not long before he’s playing for her, and she’s dancing for him.  One thing leads to another (leads to some very non-child-friendly animation,) and soon there’s a cat fight between naked Rita and an angry ex-girlfriend named Juana.  But the chemistry is there both in bed and on the stage, and Rita can’t deny it.  They enter and win a local competition together, and again, one thing leads to another, except this time that means they’re rocketing up the charts with a radio hit.

But chemistry doesn’t equal communication, and these two are terrible communicators. They love each other, but never fail to assume the worst about each other.  When Rita is approached by a handsome stranger who want to take her to New York and make her a star, Chico thinks he wants her for entirely other reasons, and flies into a jealous, drunken rage before Rita can tell him the truth — which is that she insisted both their names be on the contract, or neither.  But then he hooks up with that same old

Dreaming of Humphrey Bogart

flame, and she’s off to New York without him before he has a chance to sleep it off.

But Chico’s right behind her, though traveling in much less style. There’s a remarkable dream sequence (reminiscent of the kind of freaky things Disney put in kid’s movies) in which Chico’s attempt to win Rita back are thwarted by Fred Astaire, Louis Armstrong, and Humphrey Bogart.  The film has a lot of fun inserting famous people into the storyline at random moments, like animated cameos; it even veers off track for a while to dramatize the violent death of Cuban jazz drummer Chano Pozo.

But while Rita’s (anglicized) name keeps getting bigger on the marquees, Chico finds himself playing piano at birthday parties, until he’s invited to tour with Dizzy Gillespie, and suddenly a tune he wrote years before for Rita becomes an international hit.

They reunite and plan to get married in Vegas on New Year’s Eve.   Chico gets set up, busted on a drug charge and deported.  Rita gets drunk and tells the truth about being a black performer in America from a stage in Vegas, ending her career.  And oh yes, Castro takes over Cuba, and under the new regime, jazz is considered imperialist, so Chico’s out of work.

Chico arrives in New York.

That’s the story, but this film isn’t really about the story, it’s about music and passion, which might be one and the same thing in Chico’s universe.   The animation is minimalist, and yet, at times, richly detailed.  Like a Miles Davis solo, the style is often in what isn’t there.  This is the kind of film that you should watch once to see what’s going on, and then watch again to see what’s going on in the background.  Each frame is lovingly detailed in a way that might be impossible if it weren’t animated.

 The film is dedicated to Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, who played Chico’s piano parts.  Co-director Fernando Trueba, in an interview with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross, calls Valdes “the greatest Cuban musician alive today in the world.”
“It’s his last work, and that’s why the movie is dedicated to him,” he says. “Not only because of the music, but because I’m sure if it was not for my friendship with him, I would not have written or made a movie like this one. It’s not Bebo’s biography, it’s not his life, but he was the main inspiration of the ambiance, that period, this kind of characters. So Bebo is, for me, everywhere in the movie.”





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2 Responses

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  1. Beautiful job Monika!!! I am so thankful that you were able to caprtue my family and me. It is so wonderful to be in some photos for a change as well! My favorites are the ones with sun flare (I know the sun was fleeting that day) and the ones in the leaves and the pensive one of Gavin and, well you get the idea. Thank you so much!!! I am so glad that we are able to meet in person and form this friendship. I can’t wait until the next meet up. We had a blast.

  2. Yes, beautiful and simple! Oh, that chandelier!! looks like a great place to spend the holidays. I personally can't survive a single day without a list. I ferl Gratitude needs to be moved to the top of my list. Thanks for the beautiful image. Beth

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