Legend of 1900

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Movie Review by Louise Charman

Starring: Tim Roth, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Melanie Thierry, Bill Nunn
Director: Giuseppe Tornatore

THE LEGEND OF 1900 is the first English language film from Italian writer/director Giuseppe Tornatore. Best known for CINEMA PARADISO, the Oscar winning film about the magic of the silver screen, his latest creation fails to cast quite the same spell.

The ‘1900’ of the title is an orphaned musical prodigy (Tim Roth), who lives out his entire life on ?The Virginian?, an ocean liner which ferries immigrants from Europe to America. Raised by a coal room worker who finds him abandoned in a lemon crate, his musical genius is revealed when he sneaks into first class as a young boy and discovers a shipboard piano. His story is narrated by his old friend Max, a trumpeter in the ship band, who by the 1940?s has fallen on hard times. Forced to sell his precious trumpet, Max rediscovers in a secondhand shop the only recording ever made of 1900?s music (specially composed by Ennio Morricone). The piano from ?The Virginian? has also been salvaged from the now disused liner, which Max learns to his horror is about to be blown up – with 1900 still inside. As Max sets out to rescue his friend he tells the now legendary stories of 1900?s life and music.

The character of 1900 was originally created by Italian novelist Alessandro Barrico?s in his dramatic monologue ?Novecento?, which was Tornatore?s inspiration for the film. Devised for one actor on the stage, it weaves the story of a man?s life spent entirely on the ocean, but lived out through the stories and dreams of the people he meets on board. Tornatore has taken this fable and expanded it into a feature film, adding more characters and a touch of romance. But in the process this fantastical tale becomes contrived and heavy-handed, with too much Hollywood slick and too little of the mythic charm of quality European cinema.

The lavish scenes of crowded decks and on board dinner dances inevitably invite comparisons with TITANIC, but without the thrills of romance and danger.

Tim Roth, familiar to us for his gritty characters in films such as RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION, struggles to bring some depth to an essentially implausible character, while Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince) spends far too much screen time trying to convince both the audience and the other characters that this really is an amazing story about an amazing guy.

1900?s precarious existence is supposedly a metaphor for the human condition, with life as an endless journey from one point to another. He chooses never to leave the ship, preferring to live life through imagination rather than reality. Sadly this poetic vision seems to get lost in translation, and you can?t help wondering if it might have been a whole lot better in Italian with subtitles.

2 out of 6 stars