“They shot the pianist” by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, when bossa nova becomes a tragedy

Among the many proposals presented this year by the San Sebastian Festival were several animated films, including two in official competition, a rarity at a general festival. And out of competition is the latest feature film by the Spaniards Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal. Trueba, which once again appears in “ They shot the pianist » (They shot the pianist), both his love of music and cinema.

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6 mins

from our special correspondent in San Sebastian,

We remember Chico and Rita, which he already directed together with his accomplice Javier Mariscal, to whom we also owe the graphic palette of this latest film. Maybe we remember too Calle 54a documentary homage to Latin jazz, from the stages of Cuba to New York, or from The Miracle of Candeal about the work of Carlinhos Brown and the Pracatum association to eliminate violence through music in the musician’s home district of Salvador de Bahia.

In this latest feature film (it’s also a graphic novel), Trueba and Mariscal combine music and animated cinema to investigate the disappearance of a fantastic Brazilian jazz pianist. On March 18, 1976, Tenorio Jr. left. – on tour with Vinicius de Moraes – his hotel room in Buenos Aires in the middle of the night to get aspirin from the local kiosk. He will never appear again. While filming his documentary about Carlinhos Brown in Brazil, Fernando Trueba discovered a recording of the pianist, his talent and his mysterious disappearance. “ It’s a story I began investigating for a documentary in 2005. He told us when we met him in 2021 for the release of his previous film. Meanwhile, “Chico and Rita” and “The oblivion that we will be“I conducted more than 160 hours of interviews about this murdered Brazilian pianist who disappeared during the military coup in Argentina. A wonderful jazz pianist. I realized that entertainment was the best way to tell this story.”

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NO ” talking busts »

In fact, the variety and notoriety of the speakers undoubtedly complicated the form of a documentary or fiction with actors. How to avoid creating a gallery of “ talking busts » to use Trueba’s expression? Who do Vinicius de Moraes, Toquinho, Bebo Valdès, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento or even Elis Regina and Ella Fitzgerald play? Because they are all called or called in the film (about thirty) to testify to the talent and life of Tenorio Jr. And who should interpret the writers Horacio Verbitsky or Luis Eduardo Duhalde about enforced disappearances in Argentina? How do you get Tenorio Jr.’s family talking?

Animation made it possible to (re)give flesh to all these stories, says Fernando Trueba, especially because the original voices were retained and subtitled. The film’s music, bossa nova, jazz, is mixed with accents and voices that bring to life the late pianist’s story and the context of the time. The animation also allows us to revisit the small clubs where these artists performed and where Ella Fitzgerald chatted with the musicians. The bodies move gently to the rhythm of the bossa. All these locations disappeared in Rio de Janeiro, the filmmaker recalls, but Javier Mariscal’s brush brings them back to life and we find his sophisticated graphics, the faces with accentuated features and the warm tones of his palette, which also contribute to their success made up the previous film Chico and Rita in 2011.

Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal present at the San Sebastian Festival the animated film “Dispararon al pianista”, which will be released in cinemas in a few days in Spain and probably in France in the coming months. © Iñaki Luis / San Sebastian Festival

Jeff’s investigation

To reconstruct Tenorio Jr.’s story, Trueba invented a single character: a journalist who writes a book about his life. It’s Jeff, a kind of New York double for the filmmaker. New York was chosen over Spain because of the prevalence of Latin music and bossa nova in the Big Apple, Trueba explains. And it is the actor Jeff Goldblum – also a pianist – who lends his voice. An exceptionally imaginative voice, says the director. “ When Jeff speaks, it’s like a jazz solo on the piano “…The film invites us to follow in Jeff’s footsteps and immerse ourselves in the musical wealth of Brazil from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, with excursions to New York, Buenos Aires or the heart of the Amazon, where the widow of the pianist Who lives Jeff/Trueba managed to make contact. Due to the lack of a body and the lack of official notification of her musician husband’s death, Carmen Cerqueira was never recognized as a widow and her now grown children say they don’t have many memories of their father when it comes to a house full of life and music .

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It’s a film that brings back memories. Francisco Tenorio Jr. disappeared at the age of 34 and was arrested a few days before the military coup of March 24, 1976 in an Argentine capital that was being invaded by rebels. The film uses witness statements to reconstruct the last days of the young musical prodigy, genius of harmony, say his colleagues, who made the mistake of going for a walk in the middle of the night, having their hair a little too long and therefore being suspected of communism . Jeff then discovers the abuses committed in the Argentine Navy’s mechanics school scowling Esma which has just been declared a World Heritage Site). Condor plans to eliminate all political opposition of the left in Latin American military dictatorships with the complicity of the CIA of the United States.

also readCondor Plan: Revelations about the military dictatorship in Brazil

It was Alfredo Astiz, also called “the blonde angel of death”, who shot the pianist, reports Fernando Trueba on the investigation, who did incredible investigative work with his contacts and exhumed never-before-broadcast film archives, like this interview with Vinicius de Moraes for help the search for his missing musician friend. The pictures were filmed on March 24, 1976 and were never broadcast due to the heavy burden placed on the two countries.

The title of the film is also a homage to the director François Truffaut and his film Shoot the pianist. And there are several of them in the film, because in addition to his love of music, Fernando Trueba also admits his appreciation for the New Wave of cinema. Bossa Nova and La Nouvelle vague changed the history of music and cinema, he explains, and the way of telling stories. A freedom that he demonstrates by letting his dear Bebo Valdès – whose records he produced – interpret one of the rare scores by Tenorio Jr. Magique.

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