Cinema: "Dispararon al pianista", by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, when bossa nova becomes tragedy

In the multiple proposals presented this year by the San Sebastian Film Festival, several animated films, including two in official competition, a rarity in a generalist festival. And out of competition, the latest feature film by Spaniards Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal. Trueba who, once again, merges in "Dispararon al pianista" (they shot the pianist), both his love of music and cinema.

The character of investigative journalist Jeff, voiced by actor Jeff Goldblum, is the only character invented in the animated feature film "We shot the pianist" by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, presented out of competition at the 71st San Sebastian Film Festival. © San Sebastian Festival

By: Isabelle Le Gonidec


Read more

from our special envoy in San Sebastian,

We remember Chico and Rita, already co-directed with his accomplice Javier Mariscal, to whom we also owe the graphic palette of this last film. We may also remember Calle 54, a documentary tribute to Latin jazz, Cuba to the New York scenes, or El milagro de Candeal on the work of Carlinhos Brown and the Pracatum association to eradicate violence through music in the musician's native neighborhood in Salvador de Bahia.

In this latest feature film (it's also a graphic novel), Trueba and Mariscal merge music and animation to investigate the disappearance of a fantastic Brazilian jazz pianist. On March 18, 1976, Tenorio Jr. - on tour with Vinicius de Moraes - left his hotel room in Buenos Aires in the middle of the night to pick up aspirin at the local kiosk. He will never reappear. It was during the filming in Brazil of his documentary on Carlinhos Brown that Fernando Trueba discovered a recording of the pianist, his talent and his mysterious disappearance. "It's a story I started investigating in 2005 for a documentary," he told us when we met him in 2021 for the release of his previous film. In the meantime, "Chico and Rita" and "El olvido que seremos" were interposed. I did 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 the best way to tell this story was animation. »

No "talking busts"


In fact, the multiplicity and notoriety of the speakers undoubtedly made the documentary form or fiction with actors complicated. How to avoid making gallery of "talking busts" to use Trueba's expression? Who to interpret Vinicius de Moraes, Toquinho, Bebo Valdès, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, Caetano Veloso, Milton Nascimento, or Elis Regina and Ella Fitzgerald? Because they are all summoned (about thirty) or invoked in the film to testify to the talent and life of Tenorio Jr. And who to interpret the writer Horacio Verbitsky or Luis Eduardo Duhalde on the disappearances in Argentina? How to make Tenorio Jr.'s family talk?

The animation made it possible to (re)give flesh to all these stories, says Fernando Trueba, especially since the original voices are kept and dubbed. The music of the film mixes bossa nova and jazz with accents and voices that bring to life the story of the deceased pianist and the context of the time. The animation also makes it possible to revisit the small clubs where these artists performed, where Ella Fitzgerald sat with the musicians. The bodies move gently to the rhythm of bossa. All these sets have disappeared in Rio de Janeiro, recalls the filmmaker but Javier Mariscal's brush brings them back to life, and we find his refined graphics, faces with underlined features, and warm tones of his palette that had also made the success of their previous film Chico and Rita in 2011.

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

Jeff's investigation

To piece together the story of Tenorio Jr., Trueba invented a character, only one: a journalist writing a book investigating his life. It's Jeff, a kind of New York double of the filmmaker. New York was chosen over Spain because of the importance of Latin music and bossa nova in the Big Apple. And it is the actor Jeff Goldblum -also pianist- who lends his voice. An exceptionally inventive voice, according to Trueba. "When Jeff speaks, it's like a jazz solo on the piano"... The film invites us in Jeff's footsteps to dive into the musical abundance of Brazil from the late fifties to the mid-70s with escapades in New York, Buenos Aires or in the heart of the Amazon where lives the widow of the pianist that Jeff / Trueba manages to contact. For lack of a body, for lack of official notice of death of her musician husband, Carmen Cerqueira has never been recognized as a widow and her children, now adults, tell that of their father, they do not have many memories, except that of a house always full of life and music.

It is a film that invokes memory. Francisco Tenorio Jr disappears at the age of 34, arrested in an Argentine capital raked by factious, a few days before the military coup of March 24, 1976. The film reconstructs by testimonies the last days of the young musician prodigy, genius of harmony, say his peers, who had the mistake of walking in the middle of the night, of having his hair a little too long and therefore of being suspected of communism. Jeff then discovers the abuses committed in the Mechanical School of the Argentine Navy (the sinister Esma which has just been declared a World Heritage Site), the Condor Plan to eliminate all left-wing political opposition in Latin American military dictatorships with the complicity of the CIA of the United States.

See alsoPlan Condor: revelations on the military dictatorship in Brazil

It was Alfredo Astiz, also called the blond angel of death, who shot the pianist, reports the investigation of Fernando Trueba who conducted -with his contacts- an incredible investigative work, exhuming film archives never broadcast like this interview with Vinicius de Moraes calling for help to find his missing musician friend. Images shot on March 24, 1976 and never broadcast because of the lead screed that weighed on both countries.

The title of the film is also a tribute to the director François Truffaut and his film Tirez sur le pianiste. And there are several in the film, because in addition to his love for music, Fernando Trueba confesses his gratitude for the New Wave of cinema. Bossa nova and The New Wave changed the history of music and film, he explains, changed the way stories are told. A freedom that he manifests by having his dear Bebo Valdès – whose records he produced – interpret one of the rare scores written by Tenorio Jr. Magique.

NewsletterReceive all the international news directly in your mailbox

I subscribe

Follow all the international news by downloading the RFI application


Read on on the same topics:

  • Music
  • Cinema
  • Spain
  • Brazil
  • Argentina