The Legend of 1900

World-premiered in Locarno in the international version that Fine Line will open in late October in the U.S., Giuseppe Tornatore's "The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean" undoubtedly shows improvements in the director's shortened cut, playing much less ponderously than at its original length.

World-premiered in Locarno in the international version that Fine Line will open in late October in the U.S., Giuseppe Tornatore’s “The Legend of the Pianist on the Ocean” undoubtedly shows improvements in the director’s shortened cut, playing much less ponderously than at its original length. Nonetheless, most of its problems remain unresolved. Tornatore’s Oscar-winning “Cinema Paradiso” dropped 32 minutes and an entire story chapter following its disastrous debut and went on to worldwide success. But the commercial future of this more ambitious English-language production seems less certain. Pic is set to screen at the Montreal, Toronto and San Sebastian film festivals.

Cut to comply with Fine Line’s contractual stipulation of a running time of under two hours, the new version clocks in at 116 minutes, or 54 minutes shorter than the edition successfully released in Italy late last year. While the Locarno print still carries the original title, the film’s moniker also will be trimmed for international release, to “The Legend of 1900.” (The original, 170-minute version was reviewed in the Oct. 28 issue of Daily Variety.)

Based on a stage monologue by Alessandro Baricco, story tells of a foundling child abandoned on a piano in the first-class ballroom of a trans-Atlantic liner at the beginning of the century. Named 1900 by the engine-room stoker who finds and raises him, he becomes a virtuoso pianist (played by Tim Roth as an adult) who lives his entire life on the ship, never setting foot on land. His story is recounted years later, when the boat is about to be destroyed, by lifelong friend Max (Pruitt Taylor Vince), a trumpet player convinced that 1900 is still aboard the condemned vessel.

Tornatore’s fondness for inordinately long takes would appear to have simplified his task in the editing room. Rather than excising entire scenes, the director has merely shortened existing ones without removing anything significant from the narrative. Considerable tightening has been undertaken of the many long musical interludes — with composer Ennio Morricone collaborating to prune his score — and of the early reels dealing with 1900’s childhood, thus moving faster into the character’s adult years and the heart of the tale.

Also gone are some clumsy full-length shots of the ship at sea, which were compromised by poorly realized effects, while some of the numbing returns to Max years later have been eliminated. This last decision in particular helps increase dramatic momentum, which was plodding and more uneven in the original cut. Roth’s measured performance also benefits from the removal of surrounding flab, placing him more firmly at the center of the film. But crucially, Max remains a frustratingly ill-conceived character and Tornatore’s least successful invention in expanding Baricco’s slender text. Perhaps the key problem is that material that functions onstage in a piece running under an hour does not necessarily warrant inflation to these extremes.

The story’s questions regarding fear of the unknown and of the world’s infinite dimensions seem too fragile and intellectual a skeleton on which to hang a two-hour film. The climactic confession by 1900 of being confronted by this fear during his one attempt to disembark provides scant emotional reward in a generally unsatisfying final act that, even in the present version, remains over-extended. This scene and, indeed, most of the film could have benefited from further shearing of the lackluster dialogue that continually labors its points.

Despite Tornatore’s grand set pieces and Francesco Frigeri’s monumental production design, the material is at heart an intimate allegorical fairy tale about rarefied philosophical concerns. And even in this tighter form, it provides inadequate substance to justify the director’s exceedingly old-fashioned, Sergio Leone-style epic treatment.

Popular on Variety

The Legend of 1900


Production: Reviewed at Locarno Film Festival (noncompeting), Aug. 13, 1999.

More Film

  • Joe Anthony Russo

    Russo Brothers to Receive Publicists Motion Picture Showman Award

    Hollywood union publicists have selected the Russo Brothers to receive the Motion Picture Showman of the Year Award. Anthony and Joe Russo, who directed “Avengers: Endgame,” will receive the award at the 57th Annual Publicists Awards ceremony on Feb. 7 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The publicists are part of the Intl. Cinematographers Guild, IATSE [...]

  • Sylvester Stallone on Rambo's Return: A

    Sylvester Stallone on Rambo's Return: 'The Warrior Can Never Find Peace'

    Sylvester Stallone may be 73, but he’s not one to sit back in his twilight years. As his legendary body slows, his output certainly hasn’t. This Friday, “Rambo: Last Blood” hits theaters around the world – 37 years after the debut of “Rambo: First Blood.” Why bring the muscled Vietnam veteran back for a final, [...]


    Vincenzo Natali to Open Sitges Pitchbox (EXCLUSIVE)

    Like Ron Perlman in 2018 and Guillermo del Toro the year before, Canadian writer-director Vincenzo Natali, whose new Netflix film, an adaption of Steven King’s “In the Tall Grass” will innaugurate October’s Sitges Film Festival, is lined up to open this year’s Sitges Pitchbox, organized in by Barcelona-based platform Filmarket Hub. The Sitges Pitchbox take [...]

  • "Tezuka's Barbara" in competition at Tokyo

    ‘Tezuka’s Barbara’ and ‘A Beloved Wife’ Head for Tokyo Festival Competition

    Two Japanese films, “Tezuka’s Barbara” and “A Beloved Wife” have been selected for the main competition section of next month’s Tokyo International Film Festival. The festival will reveal the remainder of the competition and the bulk of its other selections later this month. To date the Japanese festival has only revealed its opening film (“Tora-san, [...]

  • Garin Nugroho film "Memories of my

    Indonesia Selects Controversial 'Memories of My Body' as Oscar Contender

    “Memories of My Body,” directed by Garin Nugroho, has been selected to represent Indonesia at the Academy Awards in the international feature film category (previously best foreign-language film). The announcement was made Tuesday by actress Christine Hakim representing the Indonesian Film Selection Committee. The fact-based film depicts the story of a young man from a [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content