Havana, 2008. Chico (Eman Xor Oña, sung by Bebo Valdés) is an old man, who used to be a jazz pianist long ago. One day, he hears one of his old songs – a duet with a singer called Rita – on the radio, and he remembers the events of nearly sixty years before. Back then, he was a hotshot young musician with an eye for the ladies, Then he met the beautiful Rita (Limara Meneses, sung by Idania Valdés). They spend a night together but Chico is less than faithful and this disrupts the course of their relationship. Rita goes to New York and becomes a big star. Chico and his friend Ramón (Mario Guerra) follow her to the States and eke out a living on the jazz circuit, while Chico searches for his lost love...
Chico & Rita is an animated feature, a collaborative work by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal and Mariscal's brother Tono Errando. It had its origins in the drawings of Mariscal, who has had a career as a graphic designer and comic-book artist. Apart from a stylised dream sequence, it's a very “realistic” animated feature, with the film shot with actors and then rotoscoped, and the Havana backgrounds accurately drawn from archive photographs. It's also decidedly not for children, largely due to the sexual content, including some full-frontal nudity. Mariscal has a background in comic books, and his pen-and-ink drawings do give the film much of its character when the storyline follows some of the romance genre's more well-worn paths. But it's a film informed by a deep love of music as a vital part of life, and that gives Chico & Rita its energy, and that soon wins you over,
Along the way, Chico & Rita covers a lot of musical and social history: the influence of Latin rhythms and immigrant musicians on US music, the colour bar which affects Rita's film career and in particular the Cuban Revolution which has a major impact on Chico and Rita's lives. But it's music which dominates these characters' lives and which unites them even when they are apart. Real-life musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker make brief appearances. Romantics and music lovers will lap this up. Cynics need not apply.
CinemaNX's DVD is dual-layered and encoded for Region 2 only. There is also a Blu-ray edition, for which affiliate links are available here. It begins with trailers for Me and Orson Welles, The Disappearance of Alice Creed and TT3D: Closer to the Edge. These can be fast-forwarded or skipped.
The DVD transfer is in the correct ratio of 1.85:1 and anamorphically enhanced. The pen-and-ink animation is sharp and colourful as I have no doubt it's meant to be. Shadow detail does not apply: that's part of this film's stylised look.
There are two soundtrack options, Dolby Digital 5.1 and uncompressed LPCM 2.0. I played both and the latter is easily the standout: fuller-bodied and warmer. The subwoofer picks up some bass from the music – which particularly benefits from the LPCM mix – and some incidental sound effects such as that of a ship's foghorn. Apart from the music, there's not a lot of use of the surrounds in either track. The dialogue is mostly in Spanish with some scenes in English and one scene, set in Paris, in French. The subtitles, white in colour, are fixed and translate the non-English dialogue. There are no hard-of-hearing subtitles available.
The audio commentary is the work of co-directors Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal. Both men are speaking in English and inevitably have strong accents. Unfortunately this isn't the most informative of commentaries, with Trueba and Mariscal spending much of the time describing the onscreen action. This commentary does have its moments, such as at the end when Mariscal, reduced to tears by the onscreen ending, sings to us during the end credits.
More informative is the making-of documentary.(27:07) which begins with Trueba showing us the drawings by “Chavi” (Mariscal) which were the origins of the project. We see the filming process with the actors, which formed the basis of the animation and the recording of the score. The interviewees all speak Spanish (English subtitles provided) with the exception of the anglophone executive producer Michael Rose.
The extras are concluded with the UK trailer (1:35) which, like many trailers for foreign-language films, avoids any spoken dialogue.