Animated romance

Animated romance

The animated film ‘Chico y Rita’ recreates the atmosphere of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)


‘Chico y Rita’ was drawn by the graphic designer Javier Mariscal.

The temperature in St. Petersburg may be distinctly autumnal, but the city’s cultural life will be warmed up this week by a summery event at Dom Kino, which will host the premiere of the Spanish animated film “Chico y Rita” (Chico and Rita).

Set in Havana and New York at the end of the 1940s, “Chico and Rita” is far more than a simple love story. It offers insight into jazz history, the Cuban revolution and the beginnings of the showbiz industry.

The plot revolves around Chico, a young jazz pianist and composer, who meets the beautiful singer Rita in Havana, where both of them perform at clubs and restaurants. The two fall in love, but fate seems determined to separate them. Chico follows Rita to New York after she gets a contract there, and she finds him after he completes a European tour with a jazz band. But time and again they take different paths, only to reunite many years later. The film also gives a broader picture of the post-war music scene, depicting the rise of bebop, along with jazz stars like the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker who appears on stage in the film, and Chano Pozo, the first percussionist of Cuban origin to play in a jazz band.

The film brilliantly recreates the setting and atmosphere of Cuba, New York and Europe. Drawn in a sharp manner, with impressive attention to detail, it creates a charming and very true-to-life picture.

“I didn’t want the camera movements to be electronic,” said Fernando Trueba, one of the film’s directors, in an interview with BBC film critic Mark Kermode at the Cannes international film festival.

“I wanted there to be a human feeling all through the movie. Not only with the characters… but also with the way that the camera moves.”

The film’s art director Javier Mariscal undertook thorough research before starting work. He went to Havana, where he discovered that many buildings are now dilapidated, but found out that the local government has collected many historical photos to help with reconstruction work. Archive images taken on board planes and ferries traveling between Cuba and America and carrying Cuban musicians were also of help to the film’s creators. According to Trueba, the pictures were a goldmine of information about clothes, faces, billboards, bars, cars and other aspects of everyday life.

The film was well received by critics. “The year’s best musical and one of the year’s finest animated films, this utterly delightful Spanish movie is an affecting, funny, historically accurate and at times pleasingly erotic story,” wrote film critic Philip French in his review for The Observer.

The film is a musical, and the soundtrack indeed deserves special attention. Written by renowned Cuban jazz pianist Bebo Valdes, it is a work of art in itself.

“The movie stems from two things,” said Trueba. “One is my admiration for Mariscal, the artist who worked with me and made the movie with me… And it’s also born out of collaboration, friendship, love and admiration for Bebo Valdes. Everything came together: The art of Mariscal, the music of Bebo and a love story.”

Bebo Valdes’s son Chucho Valdes, who is also a well known jazz pianist, will be a special guest at the premiere of “Chico and Rita” at Dom Kino on Oct. 25, and will also give a concert at the Philharmonic the next day. Chucho Valdes was 16 when he started performing, and at the age of 23 he formed his own band called Chucho Valdes Combo. His most successful project, however, was a jazz band titled Irakere that Valdes formed in 1972.

The trip to Russia is his first since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Back in Soviet times, as a pianist from the U.S.S.R.’s ally Cuba, Valdes was a regular visitor to Moscow and St. Petersburg. This time around, Valdes and his band will give perform concerts in both St. Petersburg and Moscow, and will attend the premiere of “Chico and Rita” in both cities.

“Chico and Rita” premieres at 9 p.m. on Oct. 25 at Dom Kino movie theater, 12 Karavannaya Ulitsa. Tel. 314 5614, M. Gostiny Dvor.

Chucho Valdes and Irakere perform at 7 p.m. on Oct. 26 at the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, 2 Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa. Tel. 710 4257. M. Gostiny Dvor.

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