Chico & Rita ★★★★

Day 135 of 365 of my year long challenge

Week 20: In the mood for Love

Whether you've got a partner by your side or just some food, movies will always be there for you. Happy Valentines.

In pre-Castro Cuba, a piano player Chico (Eman Xor Oña), falls deep in love Rita (Limara Meneses), a beautiful jazz singer. Beginning with a chase and continuing with passionate highs and lows, Chico and Rita fall in and out of love as they become partners in music and life. As their talents take them to new heights and new experiences, the pair is torn apart and left longing for each other.

In reality, Chico & Rita is a simple story told exceptionally well and left to be more affecting than one could possibly expect. This is, of course, only because the film so deftly creates a world that is accurate, believable and ultimately alive. From Havana to New York and Las Vegas, these locations simply feel alive. These aren't static settings or simple backdrops, they each represent different ideas and passions, new opportunities and new phases of our characters lives. In particular, Havana, and all of Cuba are stunningly brought to life in simple yet detailed animation.

That, I find, is one of the achievements of the film. Most aspects of Chico & Rita are simple in the craftsmanship yet surprisingly detailed. With a kinetic, almost freehand style, the characters are drawn in simple lines and filled with solid colours. It's a realism that seems at odds with the supremely detailed and meticulous works of Studio Ghibli, Pixar, Disney and so on. It may not be a style for everyone but it works.

One cannot, however, underestimate the music that never ceases to carry the movie along. From opening titles to closing credits, jazz evokes every emotion one can think of but never leaves us less than exhilarated. I can't say I'm always a fan of jazz but, done well and with purpose, I can't help but get lost in its ebb and flow. Thankfully, Chico & Rita is that kind of jazz that effortlessly reflects the scene and takes it further.

This isn't perfect, though, the film starts and builds so very fast and so very high that when it does come down the film struggles to reach that height once more. Even so, there is a believable, relatable, passion throughout Chico & Rita that sucks you in and keeps you watching. Love is spectacular, it's ridiculous and it drives people to the ends of their emotional extremes, and, somehow, Chico & Rita captures that with wonder and ease.