Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Chico & Rita (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

Chico & Rita

For those of you who feel the concrete world contains too many rough edges, there is "Chico & Rita", loosely based on the legendary pianist Bebo Valdes and singer Rita Montaner, who rivals the 1920s pop icon Josephine Baker. The film is a voluptual tour de force, as much about art and music as it is about the history of Cuba before the Castro Revolution.
At the start of the film, we are in present day Cuba. The camera moves in on an anonymous man, shifting through the dusty and broken streets. He enters his room which is little more than a tenement. He is surrounded by broken crockery, dusty housewares and a spare mattress. Everything is toned in ochre. The lines of the minimal room appear either jagged and out to get him or lightly traced, tentative and full of heartbreak. Then, a radio plays an old song by Chico & Rita. In an instant, we are back in the 1950s and the animation style magically transforms. Gone are the sketchy, busy lines of Cuba in the present day. Our eyes are now immersed in the rich glossy colors of a  pre-revolution Technicolor, where all elements are carbonated for the eyes.
We are in a smoky Cuban bar. There is a piano. When we see a slender reticent man and his long familiar hands, it becomes clear that it is the old man from the apartment and he is indeed someone notable. His name is Chico. He is a piano player and he Is nationally famous. 
We also see Rita. She is part Chinese calligraphy and part dulce de leche  with the curving lines of Jessica Rabbit, but free associations aside, she is a completely delicious representation of Rita Montaner. 
Even though we are physically in the world of animation, we could just as well be in the world of 3D flesh and blood, for we see nothing less than the rise and fall (and the rise again) of Love as meaningful as "Casablanca", "Life is Beautiful" or "Midnight in Paris". In addition to a human love story, this film is also a love story between a country and a human universal spirit, where Cuba appears as a cultural zenith of motion and magic. What first appears as a broken city of fragmented lines and shattered perspective like scenes from a wilted and soggy coloring book, now becomes crisp, clear and hyper saturated with an inky glamour. 
We also see jazz greats Charlie Parker, Tito Puente and Thelonius Monk along with percussionist Chano Pozo.
"Chico & Rita" beeps and bops, a topical  musical valentine that possesses an added soft shoe message of free trade and transport that turns in a samba and doesn't let you go. It chronicles an era  when a film noir sensibility hit Cuba in its heyday. It has never appeared as lively, affectionate or darkly mischievous as it is seen here with shadows as rich as coffee. 
"Chico & Rita" makes a genuine retinal rhumba across the eye and you would do well to not sit out this dance---it is one that will stay with you.

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