The Mindful Bard – Chico & Rita

Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World

Film: Chico & Rita (Music Box Films 2012)

Directors: Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, Tono Errando

Music: Bebo Valdés

Cast: Bebo Valdés, Idania Valdés, Estrella Morente, Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Mario Guerra

?All art is political in the sense that it serves someone’s politics.?

August Wilson

How Politics Crush Love and Art

It’s 1948 in Havana. The lovely, dusky Rita is sitting at a table in a nightclub, talking to a music promoter. He’s just offered her a contract enabling her to achieve her dream of taking her singing career to New York.

?I don’t see Chico’s name here,? she says. The promoter assures her that New York is filled with piano players.

?Chico is not just a piano player,? Rita purrs. ?Chico is, well?Chico.?

She looks behind her to observe said Chico slumped over the bar. While he’s been angrily observing her discussion with the suited gringo, he’s been drowning his liver in Mojitos. She goes over to give him the good news, but he rebuffs her with a jealous rant and stomps out. She calmly returns to the promoter, who hands her the contract again. She looks at it.

?I still don’t see Chico’s name,? she remarks.

Later She’s sleeping on a bench outside Chico’s apartment, waiting for him to come home. She wakes in time to watch him stumbling up the stairs to his room, supported by his ex-paramour.

Out-of-control emotions confound communication: between lovers, between musicians and audiences, and between social reformers and those they aim to help. Shakespeare was right?things are not always made clear to those who need to know, and sometimes even the best intentions are misconstrued and met with explosive, even destructive, reactions.

Some critics say the characters are not well developed in this movie, but if so It’s only because their greater significance lies in their symbolic quality. The animation emerges from a highly developed aesthetic informed by deeply felt awareness of the look and feel of the ?40s and ?50s in the Americas. There’s a dream sequence, for example, That’s highly evocative of the era’s films and fascination with the emerging drug culture.

Chico & Rita is a kitchen sink sundae for jazz lovers, with ?appearances? by Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, and Chano Pozo, using real recordings of their performances.

Rita and Chico are products of one of the richest hotbeds of musical culture the world has ever known. But the great threat to their love is politics; for one thing, they’re victims of possessiveness and entitlement within the territorial confines of their own romance. Additionally, as artists they’re forced to be passive recipients of racism and conflicting ideologies. Chico, for example, is tripped up on the one hand by the capitalism that would snatch Rita from him and on the other by the communism that sees jazz as an imperialist genre.

As for Rita, She’s become a commercial commodity, and thus the industry is willing to do what it takes to mould and exploit her and drive away the penniless piano player who threatens their investment.

But Rita sees all too clearly the rotten core of the stardom for which She’s supposed to be so grateful. She’s standing before a rapt audience. She’s had a bit too much to drink when she goes out and delivers this address in a slurred Cuban accent:

?There are some things that I don’t understand. The life of a black artist is truly amazing! Here I am in this great club, in this beautiful hotel. But I cannot stay in it. I have to sleep in a motel out of town. Anyway, people tell me all the time that I am a star. What do you think? What kind of a star can I be??

Chico & Rita manifests five of the Mindful Bard’s criteria about for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 3) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 4) it displays an engagement with and compassionate response to suffering; and 5) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.