‘Martin Eden’ Is Vividly Rendered Take On Jack London’s Novel – Deadline
Much like the scorpion stinging the frog being offered to transport it to the other side of the river simply because it is in its perverse nature to do so, Martin Eden offers an ultimately caustic view of human endeavor that gives the momentum. ho to constant pursuit and the best of intentions.
This vividly rendered Italian version of Jack London’s 1909 novel shows a cutting intelligence and powerful star twist from Luca Marinelli, whose performance earned him the best actor praise at the Venice Film Festival last year and his American career earlier this year started at The Old Guard.
Pietro Marcello’s second feature film is acted out with vivid imagination and vivid intelligence, but the way the story turns on itself and ultimately on the viewer is unsettling to the point of betrayal.
Toronto Film Festival Jury Winner: “Martin Eden”, “Marbles”, “How to Build a Girl”
London was an agitating political socialist and did not hesitate to make his views public in his novels and journalism. The title character at the core of this story is a nerd, a lower-class dockworker (Oakland in the novel, the more colorful Naples in the film) who is inspired by the admiration of a beautiful upper-class young lady, Elena (Jessica, Cressy), to get to improve to be worth her and win her heart.
“So the world is stronger than me”, Martin admits at the beginning, but it can’t be much. Martin is tall, fiery and muscular. He attracts Elena and her family by taking out a belligerent fool and, with his well-spoken sincerity and explanation, convinces them to improve themselves. Due to his dominant physicality, combined with a quiet intelligence and a fundamental belief that he inspires in people, Marinelli is strongly reminiscent of the young Burt Lancaster. So far he has been able to dominate with his fists, but in the future he wants to prevail with his mind.
Back in the dingy slums with his sister and her family, Martin becomes a sincere self-taught who reads voraciously, only to qualify as a writer within two years. If the setting was today and you looked like Martin, everyone would tell him to do the writing and become a male model or actor. But no, this Martin is a sincere fellow, and you can tell that in his spare time he reads Herbert Spencer, the publisher of “Survival of the Fittest.”
Marcello’s film is both disoriented and fascinating in that it never lets you know exactly when it is taking place. The director uses cascading montages of archive footage to evoke memories of upheavals, conflicts and other notable events of the 20th century. Cars have significantly different years, as do clothes and hairstyles and other tell-tale markings. Finally, you conclude that Marcello is intentionally inaccurate about when events take place to create a mix of related but intentionally disoriented imagery that will eventually separate the narrative from the ordered expectations.
As fascinating as this game may be, it nonetheless makes it difficult to judge how much time has passed, which in turn begs the question of how long the beautiful Elena will wait for her potential applicant to finally sell a story. His hosts are curious on the same point. The bumpy storytelling dominates the first half of the film. At this point, the young man should just give up and get a job selling Fiats.
But one can hardly say that L’oss Bus a la Milanesa, as a former dockworker, not only sells a story, but also soon becomes a literary light itself about the withered old socialist literary lion Russ Bissemden (the arresting Italian theater candlestick Carlo Cecchi). Though a bit difficult to convince yourself of Martin’s sudden emergence as a card-carrying intellectual, the film with him enters the realm of contentious left-wing intellectuals, propagandists, and radicals, all armed with torrents of quotes and political certainties. “Socialism is inevitable!” is the agenda in this circle.
After his literary breakthrough, the film presents Martin as the youngest member of a politically and literarily trendy world. When he takes the stage at a red rally, his words smoke the crowd, but his influence and fame only increase. His world becomes a political and intellectual roller coaster ride on the way to unbearable presumption and dissolution; The former cute guy has become a tough man, and his idol has become suicide. He’s lived life so intensely that he’s now burned out to the point where he says, “Life disgusts me.”
What the film leaves behind for the viewer at the end could provide arguments for a group of politically maddened intellectuals for a whole night. Emotionally it leaves you empty at best and betrayed at worst; Striving brings everyone in this story for free, every philosophy of life seems null and void, all endeavors and dreams pointless. No wonder the title character in London’s novel ends up committing suicide.
In fact, there’s a lot to recommend in the film, but the way that engagement with art or politics ultimately positions itself here – as aspirations that mean both everything and nothing – is more than a little irritating, even insane. Like a big Italian meal, Martin Eden serves up loads of deep delicacies, but the last few courses are overcooked until you are tempted to spit them out.
Kino Lorber launched the film this weekend in the USA in theaters and virtual cinemas.