‘Chico & Rita’: An Animated Film With A Cuban Beat

Chico's story mimics the stories of many Cuban musicians who left Havana and arrived in New York City in the 1940s — a time when musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie were starting to emerge.

NPR audio link to this story featured here: http://www.npr.org/2012/04/12/148298507/chico-rita-an-animated-film-with-a-cuban-beat?sc=fb&cc=fp

April 12, 2012

The animated film Chico and Rita is set in 1940s Havana, at a time when Cuban musicians were starting to leave the country and join the jazz scene in New York. It was also a time when musical styles were fusing — and changing the Afro-Cuban jazz scene entirely.

The film tells the story of Chico, one of the best piano players in Havana, and Rita, his sultriest singer. They’re lovers, and eventually their migration takes them past New York to Paris — criss-crossing continents to make music while struggling to keep themselves and their relationship afloat.

Co-director Fernando Trueba, whose film Belle Epoque won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, received another Academy Award nomination for Chico and Rita, which recently won Spain’s Goya Award for best animated film.

Trueba joins Fresh Air for a discussion about the film — his first animated work — and his love of American jazz music, which helped inspire the film.

Javier Mariscal (left) and Fernando Trueba directed Chico & Rita along with Tono Errando.


“I’m always listening to American jazz, and I arrived to Cuban music through jazz,” he tells Terry Gross. “When we started talking about the idea of making the movie and music in Cuba, I said to [my co-director] ‘Let’s do a story where the characters are musicians, because I love this ambiance and all of that.”

Trueba chose Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes to play the musical parts for Chico in the film. Valdes was a key bandleader and arranger in the Cuban music scene in the ’40s and ’50s. Then he disappeared into obscurity for decades, until his career was recently resurrected. Now in his 90s, he still plays at home — but no longer plays in public. Trueba says Valdes inspired the film.

“We thought, why don’t we have the character be a pianist so we can have Bebo play in the movie? So that was the strong idea, and then the rest of the things came naturally after that,” he says. “[We had the] idea that every time Chico’s character was playing the piano, we had Bebo — the great Cuban musician alive today in the world — play.”

Trueba modeled Chico’s face in the movie after Valdes’ face — and dedicated the movie to him.

“It’s his last work, and that’s why the movie is dedicated to him,” he says. “Not only because of the music, but because I’m sure if it was not for my friendship with him, I would not have written or made a movie like this one. It’s not Bebo’s biography, it’s not his life, but he was the main inspiration of the ambiance, that period, this kind of characters. So Bebo is, for me, everywhere in the movie.”

When the film was completed, Trueba arranged for a private screening for Valdes.

“It was an incredible experience,” he says. “I was watching Bebo’s face all the time, and he was so moved. And at the end of the movie, he was crying his eyes out with tears, and he kissed me. It was an incredible moment. I will never forget that moment — very, very emotional and touching for both of us.”

Before becoming a filmmaker, Trueba worked as a film critic in Spain. He has won several Goyas, as well as two Grammy Awards for his work as a music producer. His films include Calle 54, Belle Epoque, El año de las luces and El milagro de Candeal.

‘Chico And Rita’: A Love Story With A Latin Groove

NPR Audio for this story and 4 video clips from the film: http://www.npr.org/2012/02/11/146737337/chico-and-rita-a-latin-love-story-set-to-music

February 11, 2012

Fernando Trueba, whose film Belle Epoque won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, will be back at the Academy Awards this year; his film Chico and Rita, a love story about a Cuban pianist and singer, is up for a statue in the Animated Feature category.
From ‘Chico and Rita’

Trueba says animation has some of the qualities that classic old movies had — “a more concise, more synthetical way of storytelling.”

“Today, movies, they are violently realistic,” Trueba tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. “Most of the time, modern directors are obsessed with making fiction who looks like documentary. Sometimes, it’s very well done, but I think it’s kind of a waste of time, because fiction must be something else. But I think most people are afraid of telling stories. And they are afraid of the audience not buying them, not believing them.”

In the story of Chico and Rita, Chico is the hottest piano player in the already hot music scene of 1948 Havana, and Rita is the sultriest singer. Trueba says these two characters weren’t based on anyone specific, but were amalgams of people he knew.

“In my life, I became friends with many, many Cuban people and most of them [are] these things,” Trueba says. “And I know their stories, their lives, so many anecdotes, that Chico in some ways has grown from many, many of them.”

The film opens with Chico as an old man, flinging open the shutters of his small, stale apartment overlooking the Havana docks. As he hears an old song on the radio, he move his fingers over the windowsill as if playing along. It turns out to be his song “In Always,” and a reflection on his life and loves lost.

“My partner, [co-director Javier Mariscal], who is the artist in the movie, the man who designed everything … told me when we were really starting, ‘I would like this movie to be like bolero,’ ” Trueba says, referencing the Latin ballad.

Chico and Rita’s story opens in Havana, as both their music and their love are flowering, but when they move to New York to build their music careers, they begin to lose hold of each other.

“Boleros are always very tragic, no?” Trueba says. “It’s always losing your love and getting together again or losing it again. So, we try to give the movie this song structure of the bolero, no? And to use all the conventions, the sentimental, tragic center of the bolero to the movie, no? So, that’s why Chico and Rita are always losing each other.”

Fernando Trueba, co-director of Chico and Rita. photo: Matt Carr/Getty Images

The relationship continues over 50 years, which Trueba acknowledges may seem a stretch. And yet:

“I think that is part of the bolero style, no? Bolero is always exaggerating the feelings, no?” Trueba says. “The sadness, the happiness, everything, making it bigger than life.”

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