Tag Archives: bossa nova

Play Me a Memory?

They Shot the Piano Player

by Hope Madden

An unusual hybrid of documentary and narrative, music and animation, They Shot the Piano Player pulls you into a political mystery.

Jeff Goldblum voices the character of a New Yorker journalist writing a book about bossa nova, or so he thinks. He travels to Brazil to dig into the history of this groundbreaking musical movement and finds himself drawn to the story of one particular pianist.

Inside the chaos of color, vibrant animation and remarkable soundtrack, directors Javier Mariscal and Fernando Trueba unveil a particularly turbulent moment in history. The discovery and quick popularity of Brazilian bossa nova—literally the “new wave” of samba and jazz fusion—ran headlong into a continent-wide collapse into violent, oppressive military regimes.

Goldblum is one of a handful of actors whose fictional storyline collides with archival interviews with some of the musical movement’s greats. Little by little, the investigation sidesteps music to focus on the 1976 disappearance of Francisco Tenório Júnior.

The filmmakers bridge audio commentary concerning the disappearance, the desperate search, and the inevitable truth with Goldblum’s fictionalized storyline. The result, much elevated by Goldblum’s characteristically offbeat performance, generally works. The filmmakers attempt to do more than uncover one of hundreds of thousands of stories of innocent lives lost to Central and South American despots beginning in the 1960s.

Mariscal and Trueba want you to know Tenório, to see all that was lost when he was disappeared: father, friend, artist. And with him, the entire beautiful new wave of music and art that had been blooming across the continent.

Unruly and fresh as the music it dances to, They Shot the Piano Player sometimes loses its train of thought. The outright documentary content is probably compelling enough—even if told via animation—to omit the fictionalized sleuthing. But the way Mariscal and Trueba couch the heartbreaking loss of one life within the larger artistic loss of an entire art form is melancholy magic.