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La leggenda del pianista sull'oceano (1998)

You're never really done for as long as you've got a good story and someone to tell it to :) — Written by JakeBlues on 28.06.2012


The title of my review, one of the sentences repeated more than once in the movie, really sums up 1986's La Leggenda del Pianista sull'Oceano, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore.
The plot, in fact, is what makes this a really great movie.

The story is about the unique life of a man named Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon Nineteen Hundred (Tim Roth), who was born, lived and died on a cruise ship, the fictional Virginian.

The long, atypical main character's name needs an explanation, which is also a good way of resuming the first part of the story.
A new born child is left abandoned on the ship at the end of a cruise.
One of the ship's machinists, Danny Boodman, finds the baby in a cradle.
On the cradle, he finds written "T.D. Lemon", and as the initials T.D. are the same of his name, he believes that destiny chose him as the adoptive father of the baby.
He takes the baby and its cradle with him in the huge ship's engine room, where he works, and starts to take care of the child.
While discussing about the name to be given to his adoptive son, he believes that "Danny Boodman T.D. Lemon" is not enough, and as he found him during the first month of the first year of a new century, he decides to add "Nineteen Hundred" (Novecento, in Italian).

Nineteen Hundred grows on the ship, his family being the very ship's crew, everybody loves him and covers his presence to the authorities.
Soon enough, he discovers his immense passion and talent for music, he learns to play piano and starts entertaining first the crew and then the ship's guests with his musical abilities.
A jazz big band is soon formed around him and his piano, and his fame as a virtuoso player starts to spread around.

Meanwhile, he meets jazz trumpeter Max Tooney (Pruitt Taylor Vince), who quickly becomes his best friends, together they'll spend the central and best part of their lives.
Tooney is also the character who will recap Nineteen Hundred story in the movie, in a series of nostalgic flashbacks.

The biggest peculiarity in Nineteen Hundred's life is the fact that he'll never leave the ship.
He'll live is entire life cruising the ocean between Europe and the United States of America, constantly back and forth, getting to know the rest of the world only by making contact with always different guests on his ship.
Even at the end, when the Virginian is set for destruction, in a very emotional scene he explains his best friend that he prefers to disappear with his ship, that is his entire, finite universe, than landing on a world that is too big for him.

The story comes from Alessandro Baricco's monologue called "Novecento", a true masterpiece in my opinion, and many scenes in the movie are described with the help of fantastic voice overs from that monologue, as Max Tooney tells to the viewers the story of Nineteen Hundred.

Giuseppe Tornatore is great in turning the genial monologue into a long movie (170 minutes), respecting the original story atmosphere, underlying the most intense moments of the story with great scenes.

Just to remember a few of them:

- the piano dance, when Nineteen Hundred and Max float in the huge ship's ballroom, during an ocean tempest, moving around with their piano as a safe house while the waves hit the ship;

- the piano duel, when Jelly Roll Morton (Clarence Williams III) wants to show Nineteen Hundred who is the real king of jazz, only to discover that Nineteen Hundred is really unbeatable, at least on his ship in the middle of the ocean;

- the moment when Nineteen Hundred ALMOST gets off the ship, as he stands for a long time on the long ship's ladder, looking at the immense city of New York, with all his belongings closed in a couple of suitcases, finally turning back to his only house on earth, the comforting Virginian;

- the nostalgic, final scene in the music shop, when the owner gives back for free the trumpet to Max Tooney, explaining this choice with this words: "a good story is worth more than an old trumpet".

About the actors and their performances, both the actors in leading roles, Tim Roth and Pruitt Taylor Vince, deliver strong performances, with Tim Roth particularly convincing as a man different from all the others, with his levity, his wisdom, his different way to see every aspect of life.

Finally, it's impossible not to mention an actress that, even if only briefly on scene in this movie, is incredibly beautiful and empathic: the gorgeous Melanie Thierry, playing an emigrant girl on the Virginian that will break Nineteen Hundred's heart.

This, in the end, is a movie about music and his power to make life better: I believe this to be one of the simplest yet strongest messages that a movie can give to the audience.
For this reason, mainly, I consider La Leggenda del Pianista sull'Oceano a fantasic movie, that I would recommend to everybody.

Then, if you can, also find and read Alessandro Baricco's monologue: you'll find a true treasure in that small book… :)

Jake Blues

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