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When John Cage confronted the audience with the three silent movements of his famous piece 4' 33'' it was not clear if what he was trying to do was to make one's silence audible or if the involuntary noises that are necessarily heard in those four and a half long minutes were really the sound material of the piece. Be that as it may, the truth remains that what is heard is, in one way or another, the other, what it is not. They shot the pianist, the new four-hand animation work of the creators of Chico and Rita, lives in that same, strange and in its magical way contradiction. It's documentary and, in reality, all you see is nothing but fantasy and the miracle of animation; It is a cruel and violent political drama about the disappearance of a musician in the fascist heat of the Argentine dictatorship and what matters is the simple and direct genius of bossa nova (or samba-jazz); it is celebration and it is mourning; it's Trueba and it's Mariscal. Let's say that what is really important, what is, is largely the other, what it is not. Undoubtedly, prodigious.
Everything came up, says Fernando Trueba, perhaps too long ago. For more than 15 years the story of the pianist Francisco Tenório Júnior has accompanied the conductor in a more than just obsessive way. First, as a star anecdote, tragic and incomprehensible, in every after-dinner with friends. Then, as a disembodied idea for an urgent film. Later, as a project a thousand times postponed by financing issues. And, finally, as a simple necessity. And so on until arriving at the San Sebastian Festival on Saturday turned into a beautiful and tragic film for what it is and, as has already been said, also for what it refuses to be in its nature of unclassifiable beauty. It's like that.
Image from 'They shot the pianist'.
To situate ourselves, Shot the pianist tells the life, work and death of an artist who was for more than a moment, back in the 60s and 70s, one of the most outstanding figures of the Brazilian music scene. The narrative advances in the form of an enigma determined to find the hidden key and the ghost of a disappearance. In 1976, while on tour in Buenos Aires, one night when, unaware of the imminent danger, he went out to buy "a sandwich and an aspirin" Tenório Júnior was never heard from again. And it is there, in the mystery and injustice of that mystery, where the film prey to be surprised, hurt and, despite everything, wonder.
During the almost two hours that the film lasts, the viewer is placed in front of a kind of unsolvable contradiction. The 39 interviewees who appear and who, according to the director, are only a small sample of the hundred testimonies collected give an account of their memories in the company of the absent. What we see is, in effect, a documentary. However, everything is structured by the hand of a journalist-investigator who is the protagonist of a fiction with soul and thriller aspect. But without losing sight of the fact that what appears on the screen is nothing more than a vibrant, carnal drawing, at times almost abstract and very Mariscal.
And in this way, between fabulation and reality, between representation and dream, what matters is nothing more than memory, the memory of a music by definition unforgettable, even if we knew nothing about it until the very moment of hearing it for the first time. It is in this ungraspable artifice, unclassifiable and always on the run where he lives and becomes great. If we also remember, something similar was already the support and sense of Chico and Rita, the 2010 film that first united Trueba to Mariscal and that, in a similar way, played to encapsulate in the parameters of the most classic cinema of the 50s the patterns and modes of the most modern cartoon. There, too, the contradiction was the soul and meaning.
The voice of actor Jeff Goldblum hides behind the character Jeff Harris who, in truth, is none other than Fernando Trueba himself. He is the one who searches, asks and collects information for what will be a supposed fictional book about the disappeared Tenório and that, meanwhile, is the real movie, for nothing more than pure fiction, that we see. The testimonies of people as diverse as Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento or Vinícius de Moraes go hand in hand with the reconstructed memories of Ella Fitzgerald fascinated by the samba-jazz that emerges from the premises of the Beco das Garrafas (Alley of the Bottles) in Copacabana or with the distant image of a Nouvelle Vague Cinephile that comes to life in resplendent black and white. And so on until it forms a tight tapestry of celluloid turned into a simple dream. It's drama and it's musical, it's fiction and it's documentary, it's past and it's present.
The result is a film as enigmatic as it is raw, as fascinating as it is revealing, happy in each of its enigmas and in all its contradictions. Yes, it is true that the reiteration of equal testimonies and all fascinated by the absent protagonist would have demanded if not editing, then a minimum of moderation. Yes, it is true that the unrepresentable horror called for more risk and less to go to the dictation of statements. But it doesn't matter. What matters is both the silence left by a brilliant musician and the desperate noise that is heard after his disappearance. What matters is the other. Bright.
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