Santa Cruz Good Times

Thursday
Apr 17th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Salsa Caliente

Sexy, simmering 'Chico & Rita' dances to a Latin drummer

Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba's buoyant, brooding Chico & Rita is a cool, spicy salsa of love, jealousy, politics, betrayal, and fame. It pulsates with glamorous images, sensual yearning, vintage cars and nonstop music in a sprawling romantic drama of sex, drugs, and bebop jazz that stretches from pre-revolutionary Cuba to Broadway, Hollywood, Paris, Las Vegas, and finally back again to the Cuba of Fidel Castro.

To call this exotic whirlwind of a movie animated is an understatement. But in this case, it's literally true. Nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards, Chico & Rita was a surprise Spanish-language entry that went mano-a-mano against the likes of Puss In Boots and Rango. And as much as I adored Rango (which won), for sheer visual artistry, Chico & Rita deserved to dance away with the prize.

The film is a collaboration between Trueba (an Oscar-winner for Belle Epoch, awhile ago) and Spanish artist Javier Mariscal—comic book illustrator, furniture designer, and one-man graphic arts explosion. Mariscal's artwork here combines sun-splashed tropical vistas and intricate cityscapes with moody, chiaroscuro character drawings as the emotional drama plays out. Co-directed by Trueba, Mariscal and Tono Errando, from a script by Trueba and Ignacio Martínez de Pisón, the movie is a vibrant celebration of music, life and romance.

As the story begins, elderly Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Oña) is shining shoes in a relatively modern-day Havana; the streets are full of 50-year-old American cars scrupulously kept in running order, and Rasta-haired teens listen to rap on similarly resuscitated boomboxes. But alone in his shabby room, cued by an old song on the radio, Chico is swept back to 1948, when Havana was full of frivolous American tourists, and he was a footloose young piano player hungry for life.
Chico and his buddy, Ramon (Mario Guerra) are out with a couple of blonde American girls one night when they happen upon an open-air bar and dance floor. On the spot, Chico is smitten with the sultry-voiced band singer, Rita. (Cuban actress Limara Meneses provides her speaking voice, but Rita's dark, luscious singing is done international recording star and second-generation Buena Vista Social Club member Idania Valdes.)

Rita is less than impressed by Chico. But later, at a ritzy nightclub, he impulsively volunteers to sit in for the absent piano player for Woody Herman's orchestra, only to discover the piece is Igor Stravinsky's "Ebony Concerto." An improv artist, Chico doesn't read music, but he bluffs his way through anyway, earning Rita's respect. After hours at the club, he introduces her to Bebop, playing the piano as she dances around in a swirl of simpatico delight. It's the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

But Fate plays fast and loose with the couple. Jealous lovers, smooth operators, and a wealthy impresario come between them. Whisked off to New York City, Rita becomes the toast of Broadway. Chico sells his piano and follows her; penniless in a New York winter, he and Ramon warm themselves in basement dives grooving to Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk. Chico and Rita briefly reconnect (making out in her pink Caddy convertible in the middle of an intersection as traffic honks and sputters all around them), but her manager sends Chico off to tour Europe with Dizzy Gillespie's band while Rita goes to Hollywood. The pattern of steamy love scenes, misunderstandings, passionate reunions, and cruel separations continues right up to the bittersweet, but oh-so-satisfying final frame.

There's music galore, from street corner girl groups and Coke bottle percussionists in Havana to the lovely theme song Chico writes for Rita (composed by musical director Bebo Valdez, who also contributes Chico's singing voice). More famous musicians appear in the film as Latin jazz sweeps the U.S., including ill-fated Afro-Cuban drummer Chano Pozo, whose untimely real-life demise over a drug deal gone south is here witnessed by Chico and Ramon.
And between the sights, music and flavor of prosperous Old Havana, the pulsing neon jungles of Broadway and Vegas, and the atmospheric interiors of smoky jazz clubs and massive Art Deco halls, the film is a delicious visual treat. Prepare to be swept up in its irresistible rhythms.

CHICO & RITA
★★★ 1/2 (out of four)
Watch film trailer >>>

With the voices of Limara Meneses and Eman Xor Oña. Written by Ignacio Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba. Directed by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscl, and Fernando Trueba. A Luma Films release. Not rated. 94 minutes.
 

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Animal Magnetism

Bear, mouse dare to be friends in charming ‘Ernest and Celestine’ It’s not exactly Romeo and Juliet. It’s not even a romance, although it is a love story about two individuals separated by prejudice who find the courage to form an unshakable bond despite the rules and traditions that keep them apart.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.