Thursday, November 15, 2012

Chico & Rita: Who knew cartoons could be so sexy and sad and sweet?

Wait, don't tell me. Everybody knows that. But those who know me know that I usually have to be tricked into seeing animated films, so I'm not as familiar as I should be with the complexities of which the genre is capable. But there was something about Chico & Rita that broke through my animation antipathy. And that something was the music. Promise me that any or all of "Besame Mucho" will appear in your movie, and I'm in.

The Spanish film was nominated for Best Animated Feature last year, and I was instantly intrigued by the story, which follows two Cuban musicians as they fall in and out of love during the birth of jazz in the 1940s and 50s. Chico & Rita is beautifully, lovingly, hand drawn--a style of animation that captures the vibrancy, depth, and possibility of Havana, New York, Las Vegas, and Paris during the tumultuous post-war period. Chico and Rita's relationship is shaped by (and shapes, through their contributions to the musical culture) the racial, political, and gendered upheavals that rocked these cities after World War II.

But the story also remains deeply human, and deeply informed by the music that lends Chico & Rita its structure, plot, and atmosphere. Jazz is the conduit for the two main characters' romance--the medium through and by which their love not only expresses itself but also exists. This means that their connection is sensual, harmonious, and aesthetically beautiful. It also means it is mercurial, unpredictable, and improvisational. But above all else--the "else" in this film being, among other things, infidelity, bad timing, missed connections, deportation, revolution, and racism--it is intensely, vibrantly, and unwaveringly passionate.

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