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Martin Eden
Italy/France/Germany 2019

Opening 26 Aug 2021

Directed by: Pietro Marcello
Writing credits: Jack London, Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello
Principal actors: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Vincenzo Nemolato, Marco Leonardi, Denise Sardisco

Director Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, which is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Jack London, tells the story of a poor and uneducated young Italian sailor, Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli), who through hard work, love of an upper-class woman and determination, moves his way up the social ladder to become a famous and wealthy writer. Set in the politically charged 20th century, both stories deal with the divided social classes and the clash between two political systems, capitalism and socialism, in which Eden must find out where he belongs. This class difference is well portrayed in the contrast between the luxurious and formal home of his beloved, Elena, and the simple abodes of his sister and of the widow Maria and her family, where he lives.

There are, however, notable differences in Marcello’s tale. First, Marcello “revisited” Martin Eden by transplanting the action from Oakland, California to Naples, Italy. In addition, even though both stories take place in the 20th century, London’s narrative is clearly set at the beginning of the century and in Marcello’s account it is unsure of the exact time in the last century as it jumps around from right after WWI up to the 1970s and back again, making Marcello’s version seem timeless. This timelessness Marcello achieves in part by his use of archival footage. It establishes that the time period is in the 20th century, but with his frequent inserts of historical footage throughout the film we are never sure when. In addition, even the music from Debussy and the folk singer, Teresa De Sio, gives us the feeling that we are in a notional time

A major part of what makes this film successful is the actors, especially Luca Marinelli as Martin Eden. He is simply beautiful with his brooding charisma and expressive, hypnotizing eyes. From the beginning to the end, he presents us with a powerful and true-to-life Martin Eden. Jessica Cressy, as his upper-class sweetheart, is also convincing as Elena with her prissy clothes and fine manners. However, Carmen Pommella, as Maria, the kind widow who takes Eden in and gives him a chance to continue his writing after his sister kicks him out is probably the most believable character and she brings out a gentle side in Eden.

The most disturbing element in this film is definitely the pacing that seems to be non-existent towards the end. The film starts out powerful and gripping as we get to know Eden, first as a simple sailor and then after he meets Elena, as a single-minded man, self-educating himself and determined to become a writer, even after many rejections. It is also brilliant how Marcello portrays the proletarian class in the first half of the production, contrasting it with the upper class as he hip hops between Elena’s family and the family he is living with. Unfortunately, however, soon after Eden gets his first manuscript accepted for print, the film suddenly jumps to where he has become an unsympathetic, unhappy snob as an accomplished and well-known writer. He suddenly has bleached hair and is wearing aristocratic clothes with a very cynical expression on his face. I almost had the feeling that Marcello thought his film was getting too long and he had to cut it short. This is no fault of overacting on the part of the leading actor, but rather of an over-the-top writing in the screenplay (by Mauizio Braucci) and a melodramatic tendency of the director.

In spite of this flaw in the closing stages of the film, it is definitely worth “revisiting” Martin Eden in the literary form of Marcello’s newest film, even if it is just to see Luca Marinelli. (Karen Schollemann)

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