Chico & Rita – Animated movie by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal – 2010 Toronto International Film Festival
A seemingly ordinary, but tormented love story between a pianist and a singer, takes on a transcendent grandeur and sublimity through the eyes of Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba, and through the animated drawings of graphic artist Javier Mariscal. Inspired by one of the greatest Cuban musicians ever, the legendary Bebo Valdés, Chico & Rita is actually dedicated to him, his amazing life and his achievements.
Chico & Rita’s love story (written by Trueba along with Ignacio Martínez de Pisón) begins in La Habana of the late 40’s, and then jumps to New York, taking place during a magnificent era of artistic creation. It’s the time of be-bop, cubop, mambo, after-midnight jam sessions and arousing boleros. The fusion and exchange of musical ideas -which are at the core of the Jazz spirit- converge in the magical city that never sleeps.
Afro-Cuban Music and Jazz, a mixture concocted in heaven by the deities, is right at the center of the plot of Chico & Rita. It is also right at the heart and soul of Mr. Trueba, whose passionate affair with Cuban culture and Latin jazz music continues igniting his creativity.
Chico & Rita is the story of many artists whose days of glory faded in the past and slowly fell into oblivion. It is the story of Rubén Gonzalez and Ibrahim Ferrer, the story of Israel López “Cachao” and Bebo Valdés. It is the story of many Cuban, Puerto Rican, Panamanian, Latin American musicians. It is the story of no one in particular but it represents them all, bringing them back to life in the big screen, celebrating their accomplishments and their untold artistic stories.
Reminiscent of many classic movies, Chico & Rita flows like a Jazz arrangement, in and out of the main theme, briefly paraphrasing well-known pieces. Trueba thinks of the movie as a bolero, a love song converted in a compelling story. Through Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal this metaphorical figure takes on a delightful audio-visual dimension.
The animated recreation of the main characters in the movie is fascinating. And they are not only humans. The main cities where the movie takes place are characters of their own. Havana City and New York City get a magical, but very realistic treatment. There are short scenes in Paris, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas. If from a mere technical point of view Chico & Rita is a fascinating production, it is even more from an artistic point of view. For those interested in the technical intricacies of how this movie was created, visit http://www.hobsoft.net/cases/chico.
Director Fernando Trueba explained his concept and how he realized the movie, which was actually shot with real actors in San Juan de los Baños, Cuba. He wanted to capture the true human movements, the lighting and all the real elements that would show the illustrators a vivid visual of his idea. The participation of graphic and visual artists from different countries made Chico & Rita an international endeavour.
Jazz aficionados are in for a treat. Old standards get infused with new life and the sound is imposing, reminiscent of a bygone era, but with modern and hip arrangements. Cameos of musical heroes abound: Guillermo Barreto, Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, Thelonius Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente, Miguelito Valdés, Chano Pozo, who actually plays a role -short but powerful- in the movie. The tragic demise of the Master Cuban Rumbero is seen in detail, being shot to death in a bar, while “Manteca” plays in a jukebox. Throughout the movie, we can hear the distinctive piano playing of Bebo Valdés, who once again collaborated with Trueba. Valdés was in charge of the soundtrack of the movie and directed a superb big band conformed by some of the best musicians from Cuba and New York. At the ripe age of 92, Bebo Valdés continues to amaze. Chico & Rita also features the music of Dizzy Gillespie, Cole Porter and Thelonius Monk.
Fernando Trueba gave us Calle 54, a musical-documentary that pays homage to some of the best Latin jazz creators. Calle 54 evolved into a Jazz club in Madrid, and a recording company, Calle 54 Records, which has released a series of award-winning productions. Now we get Chico & Rita, and according to Javier Mariscal, a comic book series following the saga of Chico & Rita is in the making.
Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums: A Film by Soren Sorensen
Anyone approaching this film about the iconic Cuban composer and pianist Omar Sosa, by the award-winning filmmaker Soren Sorensen will be almost immediately struck by its [the film’s] Joycean [Ulysses-like] ‘stream-of-consciousness’ narrative style. While this may not have been the intention of Mr Sorensen at the start of his epic odyssey it becomes a unique and quite stunning device for telling the story of one of the most unique Cuban artists of an era – contemporary or otherwise.
The title of the film – Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums – is an oblique reference to JS Bach’s epic books I and II of The Well-Tempered Clavier, is well-intentioned yet also emerges as ironic and slightly irreverent when it deals with the poetics of Mr Sosa’s music. It is both daunting [and hardly fair] to even attempt a classification of Mr Sosa’s musical poetics despite the fact that the initial montage of interviews by several critics and producers use several epithet to describe the experience of listening to Mr Sosa.
Mr Sorensen therefore lets the music speak to the reference to what, in fact, unfolds as Mr Sosa’s percussive approach to the piano; the 88 keys – at well-tempered intervals – are manipulated by touch, articulation and dynamics into a symphony of melodic, harmonic, and percussive music that seems to emerge from deep inside the very heart of the pianist. The music is seemingly been composed by the restless nerve-endings of the pianist’s very finger-tips rather than the end of a pencil to be precise. And this is exactly what defines the role of Mr Sosa’s entire nervous-system in the whole musical equation: delicately controlled impulses naturally designed to interpret the language of the pianist’s heart and soul on which his unique humanity is written.
Mr Sorensen has divined the perfect technique for telling the story of Mr Sosa and his music. This is a breathtaking, non-linear narrative, but a wonderfully unfolding, deeply engrossing story full of agony, ecstasy, [musical] community and utter loneliness, all of which drives the artist – any artist, really – but which is a lifestyle that is so unique to Mr Sosa, that it becomes a life-story – from Cuba through [the liberation of] Angola to Europe and the United States, which is both terrible, as well as exhilarating; so full of doubt and pain and somehow full of triumphant, cathartic pathos as well.
This narrative weaves back and forth in time and place as Mr Sosa tells his story, accompanied by a musical commentary on the piano, often with other musicians. We live through the questing urges of the pianist, his sojourn from his birth in Camagüey, Cuba’s third-largest city, conservatory education in Havana, and relocation to Ecuador where he briefly wrote and arranged commercial jingles. Sosa’s story continues with a fateful mid-90s move to the U.S., a stint as a sought-after sideman in the Bay Area’s Latin jazz scene, and partnership with manager Scott Price that continues to this day.
Along the way we meet the globetrotting artist in various emotive and evocative settings – his duo with celebrated Italian trumpeter Paolo Fresu is absolutely unforgettable where during a live performance the trumpeter ends the set by holding just one note while Mr Sosa propels the music with rhythmic cascades… until the trumpeter stands up, walks around the enormous concert grand and the rhythmically-yammering pianist as his note fades into the distance. We also meet with Mr Sosa’s Afri-Lectric Experience, and with his latest band, the Quarteto AfroCubano in storied venues including New York’s Blue Note Jazz Club. Sosa’s Quarteto AfroCubano features fellow Camagüey natives Ernesto Simpson on drums and Leandro Saint-Hill on alto saxophone and flute and bassist Childo Tomas, who hails from Maputo, Mozambique. Perhaps most thrilling for [Omar Sosa] fans will be the full-circle nature of Sosa’s 2015 album Ilé, which reunited Sosa’s music with its Cuban roots.
The most thrilling performances, by far, are Mr Sosa’s live performances with the Senegalese kora master, Sekou Keita, the Venezuelan percussionist Gustavo Ovalles – a master maraquero – and the bewitchingly virtuosic and ethereally beautiful and Cuban-Swiss violinist, vocalist and dancer Yilian Cañizares, whose performance precedes the magical film’s dénouement. By this time we have discovered an artist whose quiet humanity is actually larger-than-life, whose puckish smile punctuates the raw silk of his speaking voice as he connects some of the dots in the woven narrative of a life in music; and who seems just a handshake away, yet retains his unique mystique. A son of the Orisha Eleguá or perhaps – one might begin to wonder – even the very personification of the Orisha himself – musically-speaking, of course…
Omar Sosa’s 88 Well-Tuned Drums
Music by Omar Sosa / Edited by Soren Sorensen / Director of Photography Jason Rossi / Co-Executive Producers Jess Collins, Nathan Collins / Produced by Soren Sorensen & Scott Price / Directed by Soren Sorensen
USAFILMFESTIVAL.COM / OMARSOSAFILM.COM / OMARSOSA.COM
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