As a student in Toronto and a lover of animated films, I attended a TIFF screening of Chico & Rita. The collaboration of Fernando Trueba, Oscar- winning director of Belle Époque, and Javier Mariscal, notable Spanish artist and designer, have created a visually stunning story of romance and music, truly capturing the 40’s and 50’s lifestyles present in Havana, New York, Las Vegas and Paris. I had no expectations of Chico & Rita as I had never seen a film by Trueba or artworks by Mariscal, but as I was watching it, I was completely blown away by its soundtrack and details in design.

Chico (Eman Xor Oña) is a talented piano player looking for a singer to accompany him. He meets Rita (Limara Meneses), a beautiful singer with a sultry voice.  They meet in Havana in 1948, and the story shifts between different times and spaces. Chico and Rita are united by their love for music; however, a misunderstanding and the Cuban Revolution cause them to separate for a long period of time. Trueba and Mariscal perfectly portrayed the characters’ emotions of love and heartbreak through the soundtrack of jazz. Chano Pozo and Dizzy Gillespie are two of many famous jazz musicians who were featured in Chico & Rita. Trueba picked Bebo Valdés, a Cuban jazz pianist, to again (Calle 54) play the music in his film, along with other past musicians. Valdés’s talent overwhelmed me with emotion; his playing was strong and soulful.

Chico & Rita is drawn in a simple style. The gestures of figures were created as bold black thick lines, inspired by the use of lines in Hergé‘s TinTin. Although simple in style, the backgrounds and setting were very detailed. Line and color are prominently used to portray city-scapes, which were clearly heavily researched. Havana is rendered in warm vibrant colors to suggest free-spirited lifestyles in Cuba and rendered New York City in a monochromatic palette for its stricter and more restrained approach to life. I was also impressed by Mariscal’s use of shadows and light. The lighting is dramatic and eye-popping.

Even though the plot is a bit too romantic/clichéd for my taste, everything else is pretty flawless here. The music is passionate and well-placed, the animation pristine and Trueba and Mariscal’s use of accurate information is seamlessly positioned in the film. Chico & Rita, simply put, is musical, historical, colorful and lovely.

7.5 out of 10

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