Film & TV

"Chico & Rita" a Moving Storybook of Cuban Jazz Artists

In Oscar nominee Chico & Rita, the life of Cuban pianist and composer Bebo Valdés seems to have been translated first into fairy tale and then through the filter of cinema before it wound up as a work of animation. The result has only a loose resemblance to Valdés' story — though real-life figures including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, and a Cuban songstress who bears some resemblance to Rita Montaner are featured as characters — but it's a dazzling thing to behold. Codirectors Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal (also an illustrator), and Tono Errando give an Old Hollywood feel to their storybook version of two jazz artists caught up in the Cuban boom, then separated by circumstance, success, and a mean, cigar-chomping manager. Chico (Emar Xor Oña) follows Rita to New York City from Havana when that manager promises to make her and her sweet-nothing voice a star in 1948, but their paths diverge again and again. Occasionally, the love story gets lost in all the shuffling, and the character of Rita feels conspicuously drawn in. But when it returns to the music (an original score by Valdés and many recordings of old standards), which it does often, Chico & Rita cannot fail to move.

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Michelle Orange is a regular film contributor at Voice Media Group and its film partner, the Village Voice. VMG publications include LA Weekly, Denver Westword, Phoenix New Times, Miami New Times, Broward-Palm Beach New Times, Houston Press and Dallas Observer.