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Shown in Pittsburgh: “Chico and Rita” (2011)


Chico and Rita wants a subtle tone of human warmth. Nothing big happens: the idea is to get a sense that the titular couple needs to be together, just from their chemistry, and from the slow burn of longing in the years they spend apart. The film focuses on quiet moments more at home in a Wong Kar-Wai film than in a piece of animation: sunlight hitting morning-after lovers through a cloud-thin curtain, the effortlessness of virtuoso fingers at a piano. Such a tone requires highly skilled drawing that expresses a lot by doing very little. Unfortunately, the drawings in Chico and Rita simply do very little. The film is afraid of caricaturing any gesture for looking too “cartoony,” and the result is a curiously flat expressionlessness across all the characters. When Rita dances, her form has fluid contours, but the angles and curves need more elasticity; there’s no snap to the motions. When characters slump or sulk, their body parts don’t quite fit into a unified pose. Faces are almost unreadable: at one point Rita tells Chico to wipe a smirk off his face, but his mouth is totally blank. When Rita breaks down in tears later on, the impression is similarly cold: there’s no change in her face to suggest the weight of time that she’s supposed to be feeling. The experiment in animated subtlety is bold, but the animation needed to be bolder.