Review: Martin Eden
by Camillo De Marco
- VENICE 2019: In his adaptation of Jack London’s masterpiece, Italian director Pietro Marcello efficiently combines fiction and archive material
To do something different and new. Such was the ambition of Pietro Marcello, documentary filmmaker, great cinephile, and one of the most promising talents in Italian cinema, who presented his film Martin Eden [+see also:
interview: Pietro Marcello
film profile] in Competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival. Co-produced by Italy and France, the film is a liberal adaptation of Jack London’s masterpiece, set in Naples in an unspecified period across several decades of the 20th century.
The particularity of the film, its “difference” indeed, resides most of all in its use of archive material, which stands in contrast to the fictional story. The mix isn’t a complete innovation — many have done it before, from Léon Poirier in 1928 with Verdun, visions d'histoire, to Pablo Larraín in 2016 with Jackie [+see also:
film profile] — but for Pietro Marcello, it constitutes a powerful link between the text and historical reality. With the archive material integrated naturally within the shot, the narration remains fluid, and the archive images do not feel like foreign bodies, thanks once again to the great work of editors Aline Hervé and Fabrizio Federico.
Played by Luca Marinelli, one of the most demanded actors at the moment, Martin Eden is the prototype of the young man emancipating himself through the arts and who, though this very development, discovers all the hypocrisy and smallness of the bourgeoisie. The adaptation by screenwriter Maurizio Braucci, together with the director, remains rather faithful to the text of the great North-American writer, written in 1907 and known as the first best-seller in the history of literature. Martin is a crude and penniless sailor who casually saves the young Arturo Orsini from an attack and is thus welcomed into his rich family, in a world entirely different from his own in culture and education. Arturo’s delicate and diaphanous sister, Elena (Jessica Cressy), recognises Martin’s acute intelligence and charisma and advises him to return to his studies so he can learn to better express his ideas. Determined to fulfill his dream — marrying Elena — Martin throws himself headfirst into books, studying sciences, reading, and philosophy to elevate his social status. He will become a successful writer, only to then realise that everyone around him only cares about his fame and his wealth.
Pietro Marcello follows the ups-and-downs of this restless soul in adapting this coming-of-age novel rich in political implications: the magazines turning down Martin’s stories and essays, put on paper with his trusty typewriter;? the young man balancing humble and poorly paid jobs to survive; his encounter, at a party in Orsini’s home, with the old poet Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), who introduces him into socialist political circles where Martin faces complex political discourses revealing his strong moral individualism and his absolute freedom of thought. Finally, the tragic epilogue of a soul emptied, delivered via a delirious and provocative intervention à la Carmelo Bene in a university classroom.
Produced by Avventurosa Film, IBC Movie with Rai Cinema in co-production with Shellac Sud and Match Factory Productions, the film is distributed by 01 in Italy on 4 September. International sales are handled by The Match Factory.
(Translated from Italian)
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