|Chico and Rita, Luma Films, 2012.|
Bursting upon the international film scene like some blast of gulf stream rhumba, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba's newest picture, the enchanting, transporting Chico and Rita, is one of his very best. An old warhorse Hollywood love melodrama plotline forms the backbone upon which the director hangs a sumptuous aural and visual feast of music and color. The hand drawn animation reminds us of simpler times, when Disney had more heart and Don Bluth was the reigning master. Ralph Bakshi's funky urban animations (Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic), Stanley Donen's musical duality and gender symbolism, and Otto Preminger's tightly composed musical melodramas (Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess) come to mind as major influences on the world contained within.
A touching flashback structure reveals a sometimes surreal cornucopia of careening shapes and colors, and amazing jazz music, as we follow jazz pianist Chico, a strapping, sweet hunk of a man, and Rita, a voluptuous chanteuse. Their sexual chemistry smolders, and this rags to riches tale takes them from Havana to Hollywood by way of Paris. Trueba and his co-writer Ignacio Martinez de Pizon grasp at plot straws from many old Hollywood films; A Star is Born most distinctly, which brought to mind Michel Hazanavicius' The Artist. Both pictures seem equal in many ways, as cinematically nostalgic romances. Trueba's picture just may be freer in spirit.
Eman Xor Ona and Limara Meneses are both perfect, providing the voices and spirits of our titular characters. Bebo Valdes' music is extraordinary; it provides the film with a considerable heat which promises never to extinguish. Trueba and his co-directors, Tono Errando and Javier Mariscal, make this labor of love a group project; through its vivid imaginings, animated cinema lives on.