Thursday, October 05, 2006

18. Italian director Guiseppe Tornatore's English/French film "La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano" (The Legend of 1900) (1998): a charming fable on celluloid

When asked by the Khaleej Times in Dubai to pick my 10 best films, I listed this movie The legend of 1900 as one of the top 10 movies made in the last 25 years in the English language. Few had seen it, thanks to poor marketing. Interestingly the movie has neither sex nor violence. It even does not even have a typical happy ending. Yet almost everyone who has seen the film heaps praise on this amazing film.

The film released in English as "The legend of 1900," is a fable of an orphan born on a transatlantic passengership on 1 Jan 1900, who is adopted by the crew and almost never leaves the ship even when the ship is to be dismantled and sold as scrap. This strange child evolves into a gifted pianist, rivalling the best alive.

It has all the facets of a soap opera but it's much more. The story is an allegory of people who choose to remain in the security of the known, and never venture into uncharted lands. The film offers much to savor beyond the obvious story. It is also a fine tale of friendship between two men, with no shred of homosexuality.

I love music; I admire the work of Ennio Morricone. I love good cinematography and the Hungarian films of cinematographer Lajos Koltai have long appealed to me. It is perhaps natural that the first film I have seen of Guiseppe Tornatore that involves Morricone and Koltai should appeal to me.

But in retrospect, the film grabbed me because the appeal of the film went beyond Morricone and Koltai. The performances of Tim Roth, Vince, Williams and Nunn were arresting. Roth's British accent at the end was annoying (who could have contributed that to 1900 when the character grew up on the ship?) but otherwise both Roth and Vince played very convincing roles. The casting is commendable--especially when some of the players are not very famous.

There were certain sequences that Koltai and Tornatore can be truly proud of: playing the rolling piano on a ship swaying to choppy seas and the engine room sequence with Nunn and the child.

Most of all, the marketing of the film as a fable, which it is, has its own charm. I particularly loved the song at the end of the film "written" by Morricone--or is it wrongly credited?-- and sung by Pink Floyd's ex-lead singer. Don't miss it as it captures the story in the song as the credits roll by.

This is a very European film, which is probably the reason it has not been given the recognition that it deserves in the US. I strongly recommend this film to many of my friends who have not seen it. Tornatore, Koltai and Morricone weave magic together.

1 comment :

Murtaza Ali Khan said...

Discovered yet another gem thanks to your amazing website! And while it's really difficult to explain it in words, I can safely concede that The Legend of 1900 was indeed a great cinematic experience, one to cherished for a long time to come. It's really sad that movies such as this one usually go unnoticed. The fact that the story is being presented in form of a fable makes it even more unique, and at the same time quite convincing. As I continue to explore new heights and depths of Cinema, I thank you as well as your gem of a website from the bottom of my heart for rendering a great service to Cinema, and more precisely its Art Form. Giuseppe Tornatore indeed succeeds in mesmerizing the audience, and so do the two masters of their respective trades: Morricone and Koltai!