Back to IndieWire

Chico & Rita

“Chico & Rita” is an epic, animated love story set within the splendor of Cuban culture, history and music. Beginning in 1948, “Chico & Rita” tells a tale of passion and creation worthy of a bolero, the Latin America ballad of anguish and heartache.

Chico is a promising young pianist who spends his evenings taking American girls to Havana’s latest hotspots with his friend Ramon. He discovers Rita’s exquisite voice at a nightclub and the two quickly become enamored. Their new love is interrupted the following morning by Chico’s girlfriend, Juana, and Rita flees, vowing never to see him again. Luckily, Ramon convinces Rita to enter a radio contest with Chico and the two quickly resume their love affair by beginning a musical partnership.

When an American producer, Ron, approaches Rita with a contract and an offer to travel to New York. A misunderstanding with Chico leads Rita to accept the offer. Soon afterward, Chico sells his piano and follows her with Ramon in tow. Rita, now Rita LaBelle, is becoming increasingly famous, and Ron, increasingly possessive. With a little help from Ramon and the Cuban Revolution, Ron succeeds in keeping the lovers apart

Old Havana is recreated with masterful fervor; the filmmakers use warm, bright hues to capture the charms and vibrancy of this captivating city. The palette shifts towards a monochromatic tone when the narrative moves to New York, and the result is a striking contrast between differing cultures.

The film is also rife with jazz history. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are seen playing the clubs and the story of Chano Pozo, one of the first Latin percussionists to grace a major American jazz band, is fluidly interwoven with the narrative. “Chico & Rita” is a tribute to Trueba and Mariscal’s long love affair with the music, culture and people of Cuba. [Synopsis courtesy of Diana Sanchez, Toronto International Film Festival]