Chico & Rita (2010) is a subtitled Spanish love story set in Cuba, New York, Hollywood, and Paris in the swanky 1940’s and early 50’s, and it is probably the most sensual animated film I’ve ever watched. It’s a bit sentimental because of the whole unrequited love plot line BUT between all that mushy stuff (be warned of a short and steamy scene with animated nudity) there is an ace soundtrack of Cuban jazz, New York be bop, and sultry blues. Watch for appearances from Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Chano Pozo. Watch this because it will break your heart but make your soul happy.
Both Chico and Rita are jazz artists trying to create better lives for themselves through their music. This complicates things for them because, as we’ve learned from numerous movies, fame is not always fun and glamorous– especially if you are a person of color and treated mostly as an investment. The strongest scenes in the movie involve Rita openly addressing issues of race, class, and gender divides. Historically, we know that things usually don’t go well for vocal females so there’s also that complication.
The animation alone is one reason to watch the movie. Spanish artist Javier Mariscal took a research trip to Cuba and dug up city government archives of pre-revolutionary Havana. The cityscapes in the film are detailed down to the words of store signs. Marsical creates a vision of historical moments and deep emotions that are more sparkling and colorful than a live action film would have been.
If jazz makes your soul happy, so will these three documentaries.
1. Calle 54 (2000) is made by the same director as Chico & Rita and celebrates Latin Jazz with minimal voiceovers and mostly studio performances. Watch instantly on Netflix. Listen to the soundtrack here.
2. Icons Among Us (2009) features interviews and performances by 75 jazz artists in the here and now. Divided into four sections, the film challenges perceptions of what jazz is, explores the social aspects of the jazz community, and showcases jazz from around the world. Watch instantly on Hulu here.
3. Jazz: A film by Ken Burns (2001) is a PBS series revisiting the history of jazz over 10 episodes. Watch instantly on Netflix. Listen to the soundtrack here.