Spanish designer, illustrator, author and restauranteur Javier Mariscal and Oscar-winning
director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque, Calle 54)
have teamed up to create an epic animated love story that occurs
around the time of the Cuban Revolution. Focusing on the evolution
of jazz and traveling from Havana to New York, Chico y Rita is a tribute to
the music, culture and people of Cuba in 1948, almost a decade
before Castro. Chico is a young piano player with big dreams. Rita
is a beautiful singer with an extraordinary voice. They are joined
by music and love, 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 harmony. Mariscal,
whose work often has a cartoon-like quality, applied a neo-realist
approach to this project. His animations bring a sensuality to this
profound and gripping film, now touring the festival circuit
(Chico y Rita has already earned critical praise at
Telluride and is now headed for other festivals in Canada and the
United States). In addition, Mariscal has a
retrospective currently on view through January 30 at the
Pedrera de CatalunyaCaixa in Barcelona, where his work is
divided into six thematic spaces as a way to explain his many
methodologies. I spoke to Mariscal about the importance of this
work and his commitment to the medium.
1940s Havana street scene in Chico y Rita by Javier Mariscal.
(all images courtesy Estudio Mariscal)
Heller: What was the inspiration for Chico y
Mariscal: The film arose as a result of being in love
with the city of Havana and with Cuba, places which, due to their
historical relationship with Spain, have a great emotional charge
for me. Fernando Trueba feels the same as I do about everything
Cuban. It is not just a fascination for its architecture, geography
and history, but also for its culture, its music and its people. We
both wanted to express this love and affection in a film, trying to
narrate, by means of a story, how much we have enjoyed it all. We
felt that the 1940s and '50s were a crucial period in its music.
They were years of creative explosion in Havana.
Havana at night.
Heller: Where does the film take place and why did you choose
Mariscal: The action takes place in Havana and in New
York, two cities which, in the 1940 and '50s, thanks to their
proximity and the fascination that Americans and Cubans had about
each other, enjoyed great cultural interchanges, particularly with
regard to music. We felt that this creative flow between both
cities could be expressed through a love story, a story of
encounters and misunderstandings such as the ones narrated in the
lyrics of Cuban songs from this period.
The two lovers, Chico and Rita, share a Hollywood kiss.
Heller: The graphic style of this film is more
representational than the comic style you are known for. Why did
you decide on a film that tells a more serious tale with more
Mariscal: Once we had decided on the concept of the film,
an entertaining film based around the musical theme and with a love
story as a backdrop, we felt that realism was the most suitable
aesthetic to remember this period. The story it tells is a very
real story, therefore the creation required a graphic style
somewhat different to that which characterizes me. We had to adapt
the thousands of sketches I had made of Havana and of New York, and
try to give expression to all that imagery in the most realistic
way possible to recreate an environment set in a specific time and
place. The most suitable aesthetic seemed to us to be the Hollywood
movies of those two decades. It is a classical style in this sense,
and yet, to me, it is innovative.
A distraught Rita.
Heller: You have long been in the vanguard of comics and
design. Do you see this film as a turn back on tradition?
Mariscal: The comic is a way of narrating and of freezing
reality. A comic strip is a frozen piece of time; it is an exercise
in synthesis. A film allows you to animate it, something that I
have done on other occasions. I have never stopped doing cartoons.
Perhaps this will be seen as a piece of work that is better
classified in the comic tradition than as vanguard, but I never
think about this. I simply do what I feel like doing and what seems
to be best to deal with the job I have in front of me.
Heller: You have a book
out that appears to sum up your career to this point. Is
Chico y Rita the beginning of the next stage of your
Mariscal: To some extent, yes, it is a new stage, in the
sense that this project will have greater repercussion; it will be
seen by more people than my work usually reaches. The dream of the
team working on Chico y Rita is to carry on working on
audiovisual projects. We already have three more cartoon projects
the trailer for Chico y Rita on YouTube.
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