Martin Eden (2019)

Largely satisfying as a personal-political journey of an Italian sailor trying to escape his working-class background by dreaming about being an intellectual writer.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,549

Dir. Martin Eden
2019 | Italy | Drama | 129 min | 1.66:1 | Italian, Neopolitan & French
NC16 (passed clean) for sexual scene and some coarse language

Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Vincenzo Nemolato
Plot: Martin is a self-taught proletarian with artistic aspirations who hopes that his dreams of becoming a writer will help him rise above his station and marry a wealthy young university student.
Awards: Won Best Actor & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Political Awakening; Literary Arts; Personal Emancipation
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Normal
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No

There is a vitality to Martin Eden that is not often felt in Italian arthouse cinema in recent times.  In spite of its period setting, the film feels contemporary in its approach, a creative and visually enticing portrayal of one man’s journey from rags to riches (and maybe to rags again). 

Such is the dreamlike if somewhat naturalistic quality of Martin Eden that it can be difficult to ascertain whether the film is a straightforward, chronological ‘biopic’, or an imagination of a future both hopeful and bleak from the vantage point of the protagonist situated firmly in the present. 

Martin, played exceptionally by Luca Marinelli who won Best Actor at Venice, is a sailor on a mission to improve himself. 

“Even a prison can be a house if you have the key.”

Dreaming of becoming a renowned writer to escape his working-class background, he forces himself to read widely, so that he could level up his language skills (a point judiciously made by a woman from an extremely wealthy family he is trying to woo), but more importantly, to expand his mind and develop a political consciousness so rare of people in his milieu. 

Martin Eden is largely satisfying as a personal-political journey, though the political spectrum of things feels underplayed at times. 

As early 20th century Italy struggles to find a strong political footing with both left and right-wing factions battling for the minds of the proletariat, Martin prefers to write about the experiences that he knows and understands, even if they may become political allegories with time. 

Grade: B+



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