Released in 2010, Chico & Rita’s vibrant, expressive hand-drawn animation harkens back to a different time. Fitting, then, that the film is about nostalgia: it’s a romance between the eponymous couple, beginning in Havana, Cuba and traveling around the world to America from there — all framed by the recollections of an older Chico.
The first Spanish language film to be nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, Chico & Rita feels alive with atmosphere, music, and passion. Centering around jazz music, it’s essentially a musical. Excepting one exuberant colourful number, though, the dance sequences are very simple, often consisting only of Rita, dancing alone, in her own world.
Characters are drawn in broad lines and block colours; their movement is evocative, each gesture holding weight because it is isolated. The colours of the street, clothes, and furniture is bold and expressive, too, such as Rita’s yellow dress in the early days of their romance, or the vast expanse of grey wall behind Chico’s head as he sits in his apartment as an old man, alone.
Rita is a singer, and she bonds with Chico, an acclaimed pianist, over music. Actress Limara Meneses gives voice to Rita, her sultry singing believably silencing the room and making Rita a star. There’s a magnetism to the character because of the mystery in her hushed tones and often withdrawn manner.
But the film’s treatment of Rita is also its primary flaw. The story is told from Chico’s point of view and with that comes an uncomfortable sense of objectification. The camera revels in the way Rita’s body moves during dance which, in that context, feels like a joyous celebration. But there’s also a generous amount of nudity — which could be called refreshing frankness, if it weren’t for the fact that the nudity is almost Rita’s and not Chico’s. This discomfort is reinforced by the film’s ending, which absurdly contradicts Rita’s resilience and free-spirit by implying she totally and utterly depends on Chico.
Still, there’s beauty in the storytelling. The film creates a world which is sensual, detailed, and tactile: the smallest sounds are foregrounded, like Rita carefully slipping her foot into a shoe and the heel clicking against the floor. That kind of attention to detail, as well as the artistry behind the hand-drawn animation, breathes life onto the screen. It’s a film that celebrates song, dance, and passion, sweeping you up in its intoxicating spell.
What do you think about Chico & Rita?
Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden