There's a scene early in the animated film Chico & Rita when Rita sings the classic "Besame Mucho." It's a quiet, subdued scene, but there's magic happening on screen. It's 1940s Havana, and pianist Chico has just seen Rita on stage. Four bars into the song, Chico is in love. Rita is voiced by Limara Meneses, but her musical numbers are sung by Idania Valdés (the daughter of percussionist Amadito Valdés from the Buena Vista Social Club). Valdés twists and turns "Besame" into something completely new and totally her own.
Chico (voiced by Emar Xor Oña with his musical numbers done by none other than Bebo Valdés) and Rita are stand-ins for hundreds of nameless Cuban musicians who were lured by American jazz music to come to the United States. In Chico & Rita, which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature, the pair make it to New York. From there it's on to Paris, Hollywood and Las Vegas. But only one finds success, and their love suffers as they're parted by fame.
Using the era's Afro-Cuban and jazz music as a constant backdrop, the film is part love story, part tragedy and part history lesson. (Don't worry, the historical aspects of Cuba's politics are well in the background, it's the music and musicians that are always center stage.)
Directed by Oscar-winning Fernando Trueba and illustrator/designer Javier Mariscal, Chico & Rita is presented as part of the Sundance Cinemas Houston Screening Room series. Each week a new award-winning sensation from the international film festival circuit will be featured.
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Various show times daily. Through March 15. 510 Texas. For information, call 713-223-3456 or visit www.sundancecinemas.com. $7.50 to $10.50.
March 9-15, 2012