Pietro Marcello’s adaptation of Jack London’s 1909 novel, Martin Eden, exudes retro-beauty of Southern Italy’s labor circles, even when the original setting is in the Southern coastal of America. An essential criticism towards early 20th century socialism from a socialist, the story of Martin Eden is almost proverbially biographical and contextual from an American point of view. Marcello, transferring the setting to Naples, wraps the theme with historical aesthetics and the country’s long history of socialism—that came thicker than the American counterpart.
This social-class observation starts as a star-crossed love story as the titular character (portrayed with suave charisma by Luca Marinelli, recently starred alongside Charlize Theron in The Old Guard), a proletarian sailor, falls for Elena Orsini (Jessica Cressy), a bourgeois dame. Before meeting Elena, Martin has always aspired for wisdom and knowledge of the world to trade for his comfort yet harsh working-class life. In Elena, he finds an inspiration to actually change his life—to get education and pursuit his dream to be a writer. Fancying himself as a self-taught writer, Martin slowly finds out that the call of literature speaks louder in the heart than the call of romance.
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Marcello guides audiences to view the social class theme from Martin’s perspective, who was born from the working-class family but grows to resent the slave morality of labor’s union that surrounds him. In one moment, as the call of romance fades away and Martin becomes radicalized, he steps in a labor union’s meeting stage and violently spits out his criticism and heightened suggestions to view individualism in a hand-in-hand effort with the socialism. At the same time, Martin becomes more villainous towards bourgeoisies who had shunned him from time and time. He finds himself falling in the middle of social class that should have been there at all, according to his view. From a lover, he grows as a political man to eventually become someone who resents men for what they are. His rise isn’t a phenomenal one, but there’s a room for depth in every level he steps in.
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Marinelli channels Martin’s raw emotion that grows, but never fades, upon time with precision and determination that’s almost heart-breaking. Martin Eden‘s crudity is highlighted with Marcello’s insightful direction, adding some documentary-style slides every now and then. Alessandro Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo’s ever-moving cameras capture every moment with exuding restlessness made cruder with grainy image in the final picture. For Martin Eden, the crudeness of life has shaped him into what he eventually becomes; and, his crude journey is a thought-provoking historical study for us.