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Sat February 11, 2012
Movie Interviews

'Chico And Rita': A Love Story With A Latin Groove

Originally published on Mon February 13, 2012 6:03 pm

Fernando Trueba, whose film Belle Epoque won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993, will be back at the Academy Awards this year; his film Chico and Rita, a love story about a Cuban pianist and singer, is up for a statue in the Animated Feature category.

Trueba says animation has some of the qualities that classic old movies had — "a more concise, more synthetical way of storytelling."

"Today, movies, they are violently realistic," Trueba tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. "Most of the time, modern directors are obsessed with making fiction who looks like documentary. Sometimes, it's very well done, but I think it's kind of a waste of time, because fiction must be something else. But I think most people are afraid of telling stories. And they are afraid of the audience not buying them, not believing them."

In the story of Chico and Rita, Chico is the hottest piano player in the already hot music scene of 1948 Havana, and Rita is the sultriest singer. Trueba says these two characters weren't based on anyone specific, but were amalgams of people he knew.

"In my life, I became friends with many, many Cuban people and most of them [are] these things," Trueba says. "And I know their stories, their lives, so many anecdotes, that Chico in some ways has grown from many, many of them."

The film opens with Chico as an old man, flinging open the shutters of his small, stale apartment overlooking the Havana docks. As he hears an old song on the radio, he move his fingers over the windowsill as if playing along. It turns out to be his song "In Always," and a reflection on his life and loves lost.

"My partner, [co-director Javier Mariscal], who is the artist in the movie, the man who designed everything ... told me when we were really starting, 'I would like this movie to be like bolero,' " Trueba says, referencing the Latin ballad.

Chico and Rita's story opens in Havana, as both their music and their love are flowering, but when they move to New York to build their music careers, they begin to lose hold of each other.

"Boleros are always very tragic, no?" Trueba says. "It's always losing your love and getting together again or losing it again. So, we try to give the movie this song structure of the bolero, no? And to use all the conventions, the sentimental, tragic center of the bolero to the movie, no? So, that's why Chico and Rita are always losing each other."

The relationship continues over 50 years, which Trueba acknowledges may seem a stretch. And yet:

"I think that is part of the bolero style, no? Bolero is always exaggerating the feelings, no?" Trueba says. "The sadness, the happiness, everything, making it bigger than life."

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

"Chico and Rita" is an animated film that opens on an old man who shines shoes, flinging open the shutter of his stale little apartment overlooking the Havana docks. He hears an old song on the radio and begins to move his smudged fingers over the windowsill as if playing along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: It's his song, "In Always," and the song of his life and loves lost and the way history could shake all of us. "Chico and Rita" is nominated for this year's Oscar for best animated feature. The film's co-director is Fernando Trueba, whose film, "Belle Epoque," won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1993. Fernando Trueba joins us from our studios in New York. Thanks so much for being with us.

FERNANDO TRUEBA: Thanks.

SIMON: Chico is the hottest piano player in the hot music scene of Havana 1948, and Rita is the sultriest singer. Is this anyone's real story?

TRUEBA: No. It's not real but my life, I became friends with many, many Cuban people and most of them is these things. And I know their stories, their lives, so many anecdotes that Chico in some ways has grown from many, many of them.

SIMON: What can animation do that sometimes conventional film technique can't?

TRUEBA: Animation has some quality that classic old movies had. They had a more concise, more synthetical(ph) way of storytelling. Today, movies, they are violently realistic. Most of the time, modern directors are obsessed with making fiction who looks like documentary. Sometimes, it's very well done, but I think it's kind of a waste of time because fiction must be something else. But I think most people are afraid of telling stories. And they are afraid of the audience not buying them, not believing them.

SIMON: You know that old phrase from a famous tune - right time in the wrong place. Seems to be Chico and Rita's story in a sense. They open in Havana when the music is flowering and so is their love. But, you know, then they move on to New York and things don't quite work out and they keep losing hold of each other.

TRUEBA: Yeah. My partner, Mariscal(ph), who is the artist in the movie, the man who designed everything. Mariscal told me when we were really starting, I would like this movie to be like bolero.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in Spanish)

TRUEBA: Bolero is a Latin love song or kind of a ballad. And boleros...

SIMON: Oh, people know "Bolero" here.

TRUEBA: Yeah, and boleros are always very tragic, no? It's always losing your love and getting together again or losing it again. So, we try to give the movie this song structure of the bolero, no? And to use all the conventions, the sentimental, the tragic center of the bolero to the movie, no? So, that's why Chico and Rita are always losing each other, and this kind of thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing in Spanish)

SIMON: I don't want to give away the ending, but let's just say it would be nice to see this film around Valentine's Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TRUEBA: Thanks.

SIMON: It takes a while to work this out though, doesn't it? I mean, like, almost 50 years awhile.

TRUEBA: Yeah. It's a bit exaggerated but I think that is part of the bolero style, no? Bolero is always exaggerating the feelings, no?

SIMON: Yeah.

TRUEBA: The sadness, the happiness, everything, making it bigger than life.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Well, Mr. Trueba, good luck to you.

TRUEBA: Thank you. Good luck to you too.

SIMON: Well, I'm not nominated for an Oscar. I kind of...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TRUEBA: Well...

SIMON: I'll check the list, I'll check the list.

TRUEBA: Good luck is very good in life for everyone.

SIMON: You're absolutely right. Well, thanks so much.

TRUEBA: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Fernando Trueba is the co-director of "Chico and Rita." It's nominated for Best Animated Feature at this year's Academy Awards. "Chico and Rita" is also a new CD and a graphic novel. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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