“They Shot the Piano Player”: investigation into the whirlwind of bossa nova

“They Shot the Piano Player”: investigation into the whirlwind of bossa nova

Movies

Mystery has long hovered over the disappearance of Francisco Tenorio Jr, a virtuoso Brazilian pianist, born in 1941, who disappeared one night, in March 1976, in Buenos Aires, on the eve of the coup d’état in Argentina. He was then on tour with guitarist Toquinho and poet Vinicius de Moraes (author of the lyrics to The Girl from Ipanema ). He left his hotel room, apparently to buy cigarettes, and he did not return. In the early morning, his distraught friends toured morgues, hospitals, etc. Without success. His body has never been found.

They Shot the Piano Player , an animated film by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, offers a whirlwind investigation, while the bossa-nova scene took off in the early 1960s, and the shadow of dictatorships already loomed in several countries from Latin America.

Little known to the general public, Francisco Tenorio Jr was very popular with South American musicians, he accompanied big names in bossa nova (Joao Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim, etc.). He recorded a single record under his name, Embalo , in 1964, at the age of 24.

A multitude of interviews

Figure of Spanish cinema, and father of Jonas Trueba, the director of Eva in August (2019), Fernando Trueba, discovered the existence of the pianist while listening to a jazz record, in 2005. Intrigued by this tragedy, he directed a multitude of interviews, with musicians and those close to the pianist, in order to reconstruct the sequence of events – an Argentine soldier, present during his arrest, recounted how the composer had been tortured and murdered. In short, Trueba has amassed a colossal amount of information, which could have ended up in a robust documentary with a series of speeches, as we see so much today.

Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal, who had already directed Chico and Rita (2011) together, preferred to return to the animated film. They feature a fictional character, a journalist at the New Yorker , a sort of alter ego of Fernando Trueba, leading the investigation with great speed. The colors are warm, the music wonderful, the animation brings to life the bars of Rio de Janeiro from the 1960s, as well as the dark hours of the dictatorship.

The film establishes the link between the birth of bossa nova and that of the New Wave in cinema, in France. The whole thing is very lively, especially the first part – we learn a lot, and perhaps a little too much. The authors fail to make this story truly readable. They Shot the Piano Player remains too dense, losing the viewer a little, but it will delight fans of this artistic effervescence.

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