THE STORY – After Martin Eden meets Elena, he tries to achieve a place among the literary elite through self-education.
THE CAST – Luca Marinelli, Carlo Cecchi, Jessica Cressy, Vincenzo Nemolato, Marco Leonardi, Denise Sardisco & Carmen Pommella
THE TEAM – Pietro Marcello (Director/Writer) & Maurizio Braucci (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 129 Minutes
By Nicole Ackman
Pietro Marcello’s “Martin Eden” has a strong beginning as a romantic drama about a working-class man with ambitions of being a writer who is determined to woo an academically-focused upper-class girl. However, over the course of the film, it falls into both a character study and political piece on the debate between socialism and individualism that loses its grounding. Luckily, its strong leading performance by Luca Marinelli and its beautiful cinematography are able to save it, though, just barely.
This Italian film is loosely based on Jack London’s 1909 novel, but transported to Italy in a vague period that looks like it could be set anytime between the 1930s and the 1980s. This lack of a secure setting can be confusing to the audience, particularly as there are several references to an upcoming war. The film is centered around the titular character, Martin, a charismatic but rough around the edges sailor who meets Elena (Jessica Cressy) after saving her brother Arturo (Giustiniano Alpi) from being beaten up at the docks. Marinelli has the charisma of a younger Daniel Day Lewis and it is his performance that makes the film as good as it is.
Martin decides to try to better himself through reading because he wants to be more like the cultured Elena. The film, through Martin, stresses that a lack of education is part of what keeps the poor in poverty. As Martin tries to self-educate, he decides that he wants to be a writer despite others finding his works too gloomy. Martin is rough around the edges and his cynical attitude towards the world emerges more throughout the film. Meanwhile, Elena is in many ways a symbol of the bourgeoisie and not her own character enough for the audience to see any attraction beyond her status for Martin.
However, as the film progresses, it loses steam and becomes muddled in trying to address too many topics. It gets heavily mired down in Martin’s long-drawn-out quest to become a writer and his involvement in political debates through his new friendship with socialist leader Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi). By the time there is a time jump in the third act of the film, it feels like it has completely lost the plot. It’s unclear exactly what sort of social critiques the film is trying to make and particularly what it’s trying to say in examining this debate between individualism and socialism.
Despite these issues with the script, the film is gorgeously shot by cinematographers Alessandro Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo. It captures a 1970s aesthetic through its filming and coloring with a slightly gritty look to everything. It also folds in footage from different eras, though the purpose of this isn’t always entirely clear. It absolutely feels like a film made in a different era.
Marinelli’s physical and emotional transformation over the course of the film is fantastic and Martin’s journey is a fascinating one, even if the script isn’t able to do it justice. The film has the feel of an epic despite its two-hour long runtime. Unfortunately, it doesn’t live up to its full potential and seems to be trying to say a lot without saying much at all. “Martin Eden” is at its best when it’s focused on the class-divided romance at its center.
THE FINAL SCORE
THE GOOD – The film is anchored by a strong leading performance from Luca Marinelli and boasts beautiful cinematography.