Oscar-winning director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) and Spain’s most successful designer Javier Mariscal’s new animated film Chico & Rita is nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar.
Trueba and Mariscal, close collaborators and friends for many years, celebrate their passion for the music and culture of Cuba with an epic animated story of love and heartbreak, set against the colour and bustle of Havana, New York, Las Vegas, Hollywood and Paris in the late 1940s and early ’50s.
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.
With an original soundtrack by legendary Cuban pianist, bandleader and composer Bebo Valdés, Chico & Rita captures a definitive moment in the evolution of jazz music. The film features music by jazz legends Thelonious Monk, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie and Freddy Cole
Bijan Tehrani: My first question is how did you come up with the idea to make Chico and Rita?
Fernando Trueba: The starting point for this move was my admiration for Mariscal’s work. Mariscal is five years older than me and, starting when I was very, very young, I used to read his comics and admire his paintings, his designs—everything he did. So, several years ago when I did a movie called “Calle 54”, I thought that I needed someone special to make the poster for the movie and I thought of Mariscal. I screened the movie for him and from that moment on, we became very, very good friends. After “Calle 54”, I started to give him some promotions and he would do the art and design for all the films I would do. So we started dreaming about doing some stronger work together, about collaborating on something, so we start doing an animated movie. This was an idea that had never crossed my mind before, but when I decided to work with Mariscal I was eager to see how he would bring his art to the screen and the cinema. We then discovered which things we should use in terms of music, whether it was jazz, American jazz, or anything else. We started from that and then we started to write the screenplay and everything. But the origin of the movie was just the friendship of the two of us and we decided to do something together.
BT: Why animation? Was it out of admiration for Mariscal’s work, or something different?
FT: Well, all of my movies have been live action movies, but when you work with Mariscal it has to be animation because he is an artist and an illustrator. We thought that the best collaboration that we could do in the movie would be animation, so that was it.
BT: How did you come up with the visual style of the animation?
FT: It’s Mariscal’s style, but only a bit more anamorphic. Mariscal’s style is a bit more open and free but, in order to make it possible for animation, he chose to do it a bit more realistic. I wanted to keep have the aesthetic created by Mariscal because it was a crucial part of the movie—we had to animate it, but not lose Mariscal in the process.
BT: Music also plays a big part in the film and it is blended into the film very well. How did you manage to incorporate the music seamlessly?
FT: Jazz and Latin music were very popular in New York, and we combined Dominican music and American Jazz—styles that aren’t exactly functional for a movie. With our film, however, it was there from the beginning. When I was writing the screenplay, I was writing with the music in mind, so it was like a secondary character in the movie.
BT: There were parts that had me wondering if you had been influenced by the book, Three Trapped Tigers, by Infante. Are you familiar with the work?
FT: Yes, it is one of my favorite books by Infante. I read this when I was a student at the university, it was my first my very first contact with the Havana Nights and the Havana world and, for me, it was very fascinating. Then I became very good friends with Guillermo, and now when I come back in Madrid I have to do a presentation on the first volume of his complete work, which is just starting to be edited and published in Spanish.
BT: The Tropicana Cabaret in the film comes to mind; it was very interesting to see that brought to life.
FT: It was wonderful to recreate this. Tropicana was an institution in Havana at the time, and many American singles used to go there and play there; they were there simply to have fun in the Tropicana club. So, it was great for Mariscal to draw the Tropicana and recreate these celebrations and dances and suits, so that was a very exciting part of the whole film.
BT: This is a very unique animated film. American audiences sometimes look at animation as children’s art or something for the family, but this is definitely something targeted more toward adult audiences. How are attitudes towards your film, specifically in the US?
FT: It is not just American thinking; I think it is like that all over the world. Even in Spain, there is a new path which is starting mostly in comic books and graphic novels, and then when Art Spiegelman’s Maus: A Survivor’s Tale, won the Pulitzer, everyone realized that comic books and graphic novels had substance and were not just stories for children. I think that we, in animation, are following that path. Animation is not just for children, it can also be for grown-ups and different kinds of stories can be told—animation is just a way of telling a story.
BT: I am little bit disappointed that this film wasn’t entered into the Best Foreign Film category—I don’t care if it is animation or live action, this is an amazing film.
FT: Yeah, but you know it was not the Academy’s fault; Spain chose a live action movie to represent Spanish movies, so we could not be nominated because we were not selected by the Spanish Academy. I think it is a very new style, however. At one point, they never thought that it was possible to send an animated film for the best foreign movie award, but Waltz with Bashir was submitted, and showed that it is indeed possible.
BT: What do you think of your chances of winning the Academy Award? If you do win, how you do think it will help your future work?
FT: I think it will be important because I am already thinking about my next project. Mariscal and I are thinking and we have couple of ideas about making some movies together.
BT: Best of luck to you in the future!