Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal's Oscar-nominated animated film about Cuban musicians is a visual and musical treat, an homage to the enduring power of music and love. In 1948 Havana, a talented pianist and songwriter named Chico meets the beautiful and strong-willed Rita, who possesses a sultry singing voice. They team up — romantically and professionally — and their success propels them to New York City. But, alas, the two are on separate paths, their romance lost to tempestuous natures and diverging career goals. Rita finds success in mainstream entertainment, while Chico follows his mentor and fellow countryman, Chano Pozo, into the smoky corridors of be-bop jazz.
Besides the boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl story, the film offers riffs on Cuban life, before and after the revolution; the immigrant experience; the compromises required by the entertainment industry; and a brief primer on what Latin immigrants contributed to the development of mid-century jazz. (The film features music by Thelonius Monk, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole, as well as Cuban pianist and composer Bebo Valdes.)
The subject matter might seem an odd choice for an animated work, until you're swept away by the giddy pre-revolutionary gambols through Havana nightlife; the impressionistic renderings of musical numbers; or the sublime stillness of two Cuban immigrants navigating New York under snowy nighttime skies. Toe-tapping, bittersweet and ultimately affirming. In Spanish, with subtitles. Starts Fri., March 2. Harris