The keys begin and the keys end (The Legend of 1900 movie review)

The film “The Legend of 1900”, directed by Giuseppe Tornatore, tells the story of a wonderful pianist (incredible Tim Roth), who had never touched the land. His name was Danny Boodman TD Lemon 1990 (the enigmatic, strange, maybe even ridiculous name was given to him by Danny, the sailor of the luxury parachute “Iss Virginian”, who found him as a baby in a lemon box on the first day of 1990).  The man decided to keep the little boy and make him his beloved son. Small Danny was growing up in the engine room, among the lowest (in the ship’s hierarchy) group of workers. One day, when Danny was 8 years old, he discovered the piano and turned out to be a brilliant musician, whose talent was like a miracle. The boy became an advertisement for the ship; people were traveling thousands of miles to listen to his music on the Virginian’s board.

The story is based on the Italian monodrama, but Tornatore turns it into an epic narration, brilliant, effective show, in which fireworks are as often as tears. Tim Roth creates a character on the border of different words; his Danny seems to be present “here and now”, but he belongs somewhere else. He represents/ embodies the ideals of the romanticism, but he also understands the rules of modernity – he just negates the necessity of taking part in its performance. Danny is also a synecdoche of the art’s dualism. Tornatore collides copy with original, commercial shows with musical independence; aim to make the audience happy with a dream of staying faithful to the melody of one’s soul.  He uses a space metaphor to highlight those splits. On the top board (first class) Danny is supposed to follow the rules and play exactly what he is asked to, on the bottom board (third class) on the contrary – he has a chance to be free and create the most stunning and innovative melodies.

What’s really great, Tornatore avoids simple oppositions. Danny is a rebel, but – above all – he is his music, so he constantly renegotiates the possibility of playing whatever he wants wherever he feels like.

The protagonist’s story is told by his old friend, Max Tooney (amazing Pruitt Taylor Vince).  We meet him in the first scene of the movie. It’s just after the Second World War; we are in a port district of one of British cities. Max, a jazz musician, goes to a local music store to sell his trumpet. It’s a heart-breaking, poetical scene that introduces us to the aesthetics and poetics of the entire movie. Before leaving the store, he decides to play his instrument for the very last time. The old, bored, and greedy owner of the shop suddenly changes his attitude. Max’s melody reminds him of music from a record that he accidentally found in a piano that he bought from a ship that is going to be blown up soon. It’s the only record of Danny’s performances that was not supposed to be found. Max beings a story of his friend, 1900, and the movie balances between reminiscences and present days. It becomes obvious that Danny is still on the board of the ship that will soon disappear…

On both – musical and visual – levels “The Legend of 1900” is excellent, but Tornatore doesn’t create tales that are only stunning – this movie is also, or above all, a  difficult, metaphysical and philosophical treaty about essence of freedom, art, and life. Danny has once encountered the girl-ideal, the angel of poetry and the phantom of all erotic promises. The moment of enchantment coincided in time with the moment of playing his first (and last) song that was recorded. The melody was an essence of both Danny’s longing and delight, but also – in the wider perspective – a tribute to femininity. This record could have been a hit over hits, a source of fame and great profits, but for the protagonist music was as fluttering as life, as a smile of a girl who says goodbye. He broke of the contract and kept the cd. He destroyed it, when the girl left the ship.

But the record, as we already know, was found and glued from the broken pieces. And after many years Max will use it to try to save his friends life. Danny will talk about the finite of the piano keys and infinite of the world, which will lead to the unsolvable questions about the relation of an individual and the reality, borders of personal freedom and costs of being extraordinary. “The Legend of 1900” is a masterpiece; a beautiful tale with a devastating dilemmas.