“They Shot the Piano Player” by Fernando Trueba: Presented in Annecy

They were all so incredibly young. Caetano Veloso opened the Vila Velha Theater in El Salvador, an important event for the city, at the age of 21. Pianist Francisco Tenorio Jr., the subject of Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal’s “They Shot the Piano Player”, recorded a record as the band’s leader in March 1964, when he was 23 years old.

But he plays the piano on some of the greatest samba jazz records of all time, some with Raoul de Souza on trombone and JT Meirelles on tenor saxophone.

“These boys were geniuses in Brazilian music and were only 23 years old,” said Oscar-winning screenwriter and director Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”). Diversity in Annecy.

If Tenorio is not better known, it is partly because he was killed, “desaparecido,” in 1976 in Argentina during a tour, a full life abruptly annulled at the age of 35 when a military coup took over the country.

No one has asked Argentine police to investigate his death, given that they were part of the forces of the order that killed him, Spanish writer and director Fernando Trueba noted on stage in Annecy this week, where “They Shot the Piano Player ”was presented as a work in progress.

Decades later, Trueba’s interview with Tenorio Jr.’s widow, Carmen – about what was then conceived as a documentary about Tenorio – was the first interview she ever wanted to give.

The history of Latin America is so often a history of defeat. They Shot the Piano Player tries to get to the truth on several levels. Who was Tenorio Jr.? Why did you die? What was his music?

Thus, his promises, the animated film captures a fleeting period of creative freedom at a turning point in Latin American history in the 1960s and 1970s, when the region flourished, in novels (The Boom), in films. Cinema Novo) and music (Bossa Nova).

They were all thrown back, scattered, sent into exile by the totalitarian regimes that engulfed Latin America.

Sold by the Film Constellation, “They Shot the Piano” will be distributed in France by Dulac Distribution and the Benelux by Periscoop.

Years of conception and creation, “They Shot the Piano Player” is also a typical type of passionate project that can lead to a completely one-off film.

When he didn’t play music, Tenorio didn’t even know how to fry an egg, Trueba was told. But he could certainly play the piano. One accent at first glance in Annecy was just the music of Tenorio Jr., with quick fingers, each note clear, cascading, joyful, unexpected. The public does not have to know anything about jazz to appreciate its virtuosity.

Trueba, who has made many musical films, such as the Latin jazz-themed Calle 54 from 2000, first heard Tenorio many years ago.

“I was researching an album and I found piano music that I really loved. I thought the player should be really well known, but I found a figure I didn’t know at all, “Trueba told an audience in Annecy.

“At the same time, I found Tenorio Jr. disappeared during the Argentine coup. I started researching and became obsessed, completely obsessed for years. ”

Initially, Trueba undertook to interview friends, family and people who played with Tenorio for a documentary.

He considered a feature film, but rejected the idea. “There are great biographical films, but I just couldn’t believe that an actor was playing Tenorio.”

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They shot the pianist
Credit: Films Constellation

While researching, Trueba and designer and artist Javier Mariscal created Chico and Rita, a love story set on the Havana music scene in the late 1940s and 1950s, freely inspired by the life of the Cuban pianist. and group leader Bebo Valdes. He was nominated for the 2012 Academy of Animated Film and the Annie Award and won Best Animated Film at the 2011 European Film Awards.

Chico and Rita opened Trueba’s eyes. “When a cartoon is drawn by Charlie Parker, people believe in the drawing,” he said. The animation will allow him to portray not only Tenorio, but also his era, her music, the belle époque of Bossa Nova.

“But at first I thought the idea was so crazy that I didn’t tell my friends, not even my wife. [Trueba’s career long producer Cristina Huete]said the Trumpet.

But Trueba could not give up his dream. One crucial decision was to enter Tenório on several levels so that the film could be divided in several ways. It began in 2009 at a bookstore in New York, when an American writer presented his latest book. He then returns to explain how he set out to write a book about Bosa Nova and eventually wrote a book about Tenorio Jr.

The film includes animated versions of the interviews. But when interviewees begin to talk about the past, it reconstructs their anecdotes as what Trumpet calls “fictional documentary” scenes.

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Fernando Trueba
Courtesy of Jean-Paul Comin

The result, Trueba said, is a multi-level film: “It’s a musical, but also a kind of political thriller and a crime investigation.”

Trumpet immediately thought of Jeff Goldblum to voice the journalist. Goldblum participated in the 1989 Best Goya Film Award for Trueba’s “El sueño del mono loco” and remained a friend. Goldblum is also a talented jazz pianist.

“I just love working with Fernando for anything, talking to him,” Goldblum said, his voice cut off, polite as always, in a video broadcast in Annecy.

“We both love music. “I think ‘They Shot the Piano Player’ can be really special, really good,” he added.

“He has the most original and personal voice in American cinema and is a great pianist, so keen on history. It was an amazing reunion for me, “said Trueba in Annecy.

How to animate the movie is another question. For the interviews, the film uses “a realistic palette, everyday colors, everything clean, ironed shirts,” Javier Mariscal told Work in Progress.

For the anecdotes of the interviewees, the animation style of these “clouds”, as Mariscal calls them, is close to Mariscal’s distinctive style, but varies from one retrospective to another. The scenes in Bossa Nova Rio are sensual, soaked in light during the day and bright colors in clubs at night. The scenes at the ESMA torture center in Argentina are dark, colorless.

Recording sessions are chosen by individual players, their faces wrinkled with concentration or illuminated by happiness. The lighting may be on.

“Colors help give emotion to music,” Mariscal said in Annecy.

“They Shot the Piano Player” is Trueba’s passionate project. However, his passion turned out to be contagious.

France’s Les Films d’Ici Méditerranée, Portugal’s Animanostra, Netherlands’ Submarine and Peru’s Producciones Tondero produced the film with Huete’s main producer Fernando Trueba Producciones.

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