Fernando Trueba has been an entertainment professional for over four decades. His passion for film and music are themes throughout his work as a director, writer, and music producer. In 2000, Trueba’s award winning documentary – Calle 54 – was an testament to his zeal for Latin jazz. The film featured jazz greats Tito Puente, Cachao, Paquito D’Rivera, and Bebo Valdés. In fact, Valdés became the inspiration behind Trueba’s 2010 animated drama – Chico and Rita – a tribute to love and Afro-Cuban jazz.
The film captures the striking story of two musicians chasing their professional dreams and an everlasting love. It begins with an up-tempo glitzy jazz score panning a modern day Havana, Cuba. It is a day in the life of an aged jazz musician – Chico – who works as a shoe shiner. Chico is quickly transported back to the 1940s after hearing a song on the radio he recorded with the love of his life – Rita. Chico – a talented young pianist, and Rita – a sultry young singer. The two strike up a love affair challenged by betrayal, guilt, jealousy, time and space.
The film score for Chico and Rita is a collection of songs composed and arranged by Cuban pianist, bandleader, composer and arranger – Bebo Valdés. Born in 1918, Valdés was one of the creators of the Cuban musical style of mambo, as well as his own distinct rhythm called ‘Batanga’. Throughout his career, Valdés has arranged and performed with his equally talented contemporaries like Celia Cruz, Elena Burke, and the Armando Romeu Orchestra. But in recent years, he lived in almost total obscurity until Trueba brought him back to the stage in the film Calle 54. And although Valdés became Trueba’s muse for Chico and Rita, Chico’s character pays homage to all Cuban musicians of the Golden Era of Jazz.
In addition to the superb musical score by Valdés, the film’s visual aesthetic is no less than excellent. Trueba partnered with his longtime friend, designer Javier Mariscal, for the film’s animation graphics. Both admit that they wanted to tell a story like a dream with a backdrop of great music. They also wanted to create images that seamlessly replicated sound and the movement of the music. The use animation became a clear choice to express their vision. However, Trueba and Mariscal filmed real actors prior to designing the film. Their reasoning was to capture how actors portrayed the emotions and physicality of the characters. The great Chano Pozo, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie impose additional elements of real life throughout the film with guest appearances.
Chico and Rita is screening as part of ICE Theaters’ Black World Cinema series Oct. 3 at ICE Lawndale Theaters and Oct. 4 at ICE Chatham Theaters. A post-film discussion will follow the screening on Oct. 4.