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  Martin Eden Lofty Ideals
Year: 2019
Director: Pietro Marcello
Stars: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Vincenzo Nemolato, Marco Leonardi, Denise Sardisco, Carmen Pommella, Autilia Ranieri, Elisabetta Valgoi, Pietro Ragusa, Savino Paparella, Vincenza Modica, Giustiniano Alpi, Giuseppe Iuliano, Peppe Maggio, Maurizio Donadoni
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  5 (from 1 vote)
Review: Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) is a sailor who works on any ship that will have him, but he has always wanted something more, even if he is unsure what that may be. One morning, after a one night stand, he wakes up at the docks and sees a security guard about to beat up a young man who was trespassing, so he steps in and knocks the guard to the ground in an act of rescue. The young man is very grateful and asks Martin to go for lunch at his parents' home by way of thanks, and he accepts, but is not prepared for his sister, Elena (Jessica Cressy), who he falls in love with at first sight. Here is someone who embodies everything he wants out of life, money, class, education: if he romances her, it could all be within his grasp.

Martin Eden was a book by popular, early twentieth century writer Jack London, now best known for his adventure tales, but he also wrote this vaguely autobiographical effort about the struggles of a budding author to establish himself. And when he does, he realises that all this success is not what it was cracked up to be, so we already had a story that was fairly familiar by 2019 when adapter and director Pietro Marcello tackled it, rendering its distinctly American details into distinctly Italian ones, but also playing with the time frame. This meant we were never very certain whereabouts in the century we were, sometimes it seemed to be at the start and at others we were in the latter stages, as seventies pop on the soundtrack mixed with vintage socialist rallies.

Martin is not exactly a socialist, he is more of an individualist as he will tell anyone who will listen, and so wedded to his politics that we can tell he is headed for a fall since he is so inflexible in his outlook. This is a sure way to lose Elena for good if he's not careful, and the fact remains that despite a powerful performance, there was not much to engage about Marinelli's character, so we had a hard time understanding what attracted Elena to him, though when she starts having second thoughts it's a lot more believable. This was an issue running through the entire two hours plus running time, Martin was not great company, indeed he was a real bore, like being in the enforced company of a man determined to set the world to rights and doing so by insisting on telling you about his possibly never to be fulfilled plans in pitiless detail.

It was obvious what Marcello was trying, one of those epics from the last great decade of Italian cinema, the nineteen-seventies, when the likes of Federico Fellini, Lina Wertmuller and Bernardo Bertolucci were flexing their creative muscles and it seemed the sky was the limit as to what could be depicted on a movie screen in a mainstream and arthouse capacity alike. Yet there was a mood of daring to those works that still makes them controversial to this day, and you could not envisage much controversy stirred up by Martin Eden, mainly because connecting with political diatribes was not something many audiences could be bothered with anymore. You may regret that loss, you may not, but here was a film that could make up your mind as its protagonist comes to doubt the tenets of his outlook, that it was no great loss few directors were crafting projects where characters gave serious-minded speeches about the way of the world and how they believed it should be run, according to their personal rules. Stylistically it was attractive, shot on Super 16mm and interspersed with documentary clips from across the century, but it was difficult to sustain interest.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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