Cuba, 1948. Chico is a young piano player with big dreams. Rita is a beautiful singer with an extraordinary voice. Music and romantic desire unites them, but their journey - in the tradition of the Latin ballad, the bolero - brings heartache and torment. From Havana to New York, Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas, two passionate individuals battle impossible odds to unite in music and love.

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Like the earlier reviewer, once I saw on the DVD box that "Chico and Rita" featured the music of Woody Herman, Dizzy Gillespie, Theolonius Monk and Charlie Parker- in addition to the Cuban music!- I knew I had to see the film. I wasn't disappointed. My father was a big band pianist and I grew up in Miami. From an early age I gained an appreciation of jazz and swing from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s and a keen awareness of Cuban culture. I used to listen to the local Spanish language radio stations and I have a deep fondness for Cuban music. Chico and Rita dazzled me from its start with its rich portrayal of life in Havana in the days when Cuba was a popular travel destination for Americans. I loved the homage to the famous Tropicana nightclub. The film doesn't shy away from showing how life in the glamorous capital was for its citizens like Chico and his friend Ramon, young black men who lack money but are talented and ambitious. From its start it reveals frankly how they are barred from entering nightclubs and hotels not just because they are poor but also because the establishments are for whites only. The beautiful Rita can gain entrance, only because she has to work as an escort for rich Yankee tourists. The movie is a tribute to the Latin American musicians and singers who became a major influence on American music and popular culture. As Chico and Ramon search for success in New York clubs and Rita becomes a Broadway and Hollywood sensation real life stars Chano Pozo and Tito Puente make appearances. I very much appreciated the nod to Nat King Cole' s making Spanish language songs hits worldwide; it was great to discover in the documentary included in the DVD that Nat King Cole's brother Freddie honored his brother's memory by adapting his style in his vocals for the film. The animation is sensational: the portrayals of the Havana seafront and the New York skyline are breathtaking. I was tickled by the newly arrived Chico and Ramon's struggles to adjust to the unfamiliar snowscapes around them and the ice under their feet: they made me remember how I was shocked by my first winter after a lifetime in a tropical climate. The animation isn't afraid either to be frank and adult: a fight between Rita and Chico's old girlfriend doesn't show them pulling their punches. One of the movie's highlights is a fantastic dream sequence that salutes the musicals of the Golden Age of Hollywood. Chico and Rita's love story reveals also their troubled love affair with the music that inspires them and the country that fires their ambitions. Success gives them Cadillacs, their names on marquees, and large apartments in skyscrapers, but it also brings danger and pain: Chano dies in the midst of a violent argument about money and drugs, after telling Chico and Ramon that he can't travel to the South of the United States because the racists there are viler than the ones in Cuba. Rita's stardom is hollow as she can't stay in the Las Vegas hotel that she is headlining. Her candor about the prejudice she faces kills her career. Ultimately Chico suffers rejection from both countries he loves. He is deported from the US after being framed for drug possession; the new Cuba leaves him without a profession after it bans jazz as imperialist. The saddest moment in the movie is when the elderly Chico approaches a piano and reflects that he hasn't touched one in years. The ruined buildings and blackouts in present day Havana are shown unflinchingly, and I was warmed by how Chico's recognition by an international singer pays tribute to Cubans who have lived for decades in isolation, often under oppression. However, I found Rita's fate unconvincing and overly sentimental. I'm moved by the thought that Chico and Rita were separated by the US taking its leave of Cuba, and cutting all relations with it. But I couldn't believe that Rita would spend 47 years in the same motel waiting for Chico to knock on her door.

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