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  Chico & Rita Music Of The Heart
Year: 2010
Director: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
Stars: Mario Guerra, Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Estrella Morente
Genre: Animated, Romance, MusicBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Oña) is an elderly Cuban who for the past few decades has scraped a meagre living by shining shoes, but there was a time when he was a very promising musician. That was back in 1948, when he had dreams of playing the piano in the jazz bands which visited Havana, but there was another passion in his life, and she was Rita (Limara Meneses) who he met when out at a nightclub. She was singing onstage, and captured Chico's heart immediately as he sensed their shared love of music was something that could bring them together...

And that's both their problem and their redeeming quality, in one of the more striking animated features to happen along in the early twenty-first century. The approach was one of warm nostalgia, or that was the style of the cartooning at any rate with a rich palette of colours to suggest the sundrenched climate of Cuba, and a more chilly, darker tone to the later, New York sequences, and the character design a simple, smooth line drawing that rendered the tale both contemporary and conjuring up the cinematic romances of the past. There were strong hints that the directors were aiming for an archetype in their storytelling.

Certainly their plotting, which reminisced about the bebop jazz era, was patently intended to draw up memories of another time that may be out of reach to many audiences unless they had a habit of listening to old records and watching old films. This would not be a huge number of potential viewers, but chances were that most would respond to the love affair that took place over the course of the passage of time, though even then there may have been resistance. While some could find this swooningly romantic, others could just as easily grow frustrated with Chico and Rita and their continual inability to get it together.

Well, that's not quite accurate, as the first night they meet which sparks off Chico's interest in the woman for the rest of his life they most definitely do get together, but the next morning while he plays her a tune he has written for her as she lounges around naked in his room the spell is broken when one of Chico's old girlfriends practically breaks down the door and in a jealous rage starts slapping Rita about. She can give as good as she gets, but the budding relationship has soured and for Chico this is the great union of his life that seems to have been thwarted just as it was in its opening stages.

But there is hope, and in Rita he recognises a soulmate, which she does in him, yet at every point they meet thereafter one or other seems to say the wrong thing or fickle fate intervenes and they wind up living apart again. Rita seeks her calling as a singer in the United States, and does very well, even reaching Hollywood and a movie contract, so Chico follows her as a far less glamorous lifestyle opens up to him, though he still manages to find work as a musician thanks to his talent. But will they join up for a happy ending? That's the possibility that keeps you watching, yet you may lose patience with them long before the end; luckily there are plenty of other reasons to keep watching, the sultry songs for one, the fine visuals for another, and the themes of poverty and race that inevitably bubble up from such a setting. In this case, it's more that the story is carried by the imagery and the sounds. Music by Bebo Valdés.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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