Martin Eden: BRWC LFF Review. By Patrick Coyle-Simmons.
Martin Eden is a 2019 Italian-French historical romance drama film directed by Pietro Marcello, loosely based on the 1909 novel of the same name by Jack London. It follows an uneducated sailor, traveling through Europe who begins to yearn for more in life following a meeting with a young, upper-class girl. As he finds himself thrown into the world of high society, while still living in his sister’s apartment with her family, Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) finds a passion for writing as he attempts to court the young woman, Elena (Jessica Cressy) while also trying to move his way up the social class structure.
Set against a politically charged backdrop of divided social classes and political systems in the form of socialism and capitalism, Martin must discover who he is and where he fits into the world.
Truth be told, I am not the most avid or experienced foreign film fan, though I do try to take in as many as I can, so when given the opportunity to review this film, I jumped at the chance. Immediately one of the most striking aspects of the film is the cinematography. The first image the film exposes to the audience is a crisp shot of Martin as he records a message seemingly setting the tone of the film, before it cuts to archival footage, echoing the opening of Roman Polanski’s The Pianist.
The strangest part about the use of archival footage is that while it does establish that the film is set within the 20th Century, it never actually states or addresses what time period it is set in, which makes the time jump later on in the film even more jarring.
The aforementioned cinematography is one of the two biggest positives Martin Eden has to offer, with a rich color palette, some gorgeous on-location filming, both adding a great sense of realism to the overall piece. The (only) other positive thing I have to say about the film is the performances. Both Luca Mmarienelli and Jessica Cressy give truly wonderful performances as Martin and Elena respectively. Despite the language barrier for myself, an American who only knows English and a sprinkle of Spanish, both performances felt entirely authentic through every scene. Director Pietro Marcello’s passion for this piece can be felt in the way it is staged, shot, and acted, but even with that, the film struggles to leave an impact of being anything above average.
The biggest issue with this film, and it is a big one, is its pacing. The first act starts so strong and then, only after about 20 minutes seems to fall off a cliff and never fully recovers. The most recent comparison to this would have to be another 2019 film, one of my least favorites of the year and another literature adaptation; The Goldfinch. Both feature solid enough starts before losing all steam and dragging for the rest of their runtimes, though The Goldfinch suffers significantly more than Martin Eden.
This all feels like it was avoidable with this film as well had the semi-constant stream of archival footage being interspersed with the actual film been cut down or cut out altogether, save for the bits in the opening used to try and establish a time period. These sections of the film often time take away rather than add any sense of narrative purpose, even taking the viewer out of the film entirely.
Earlier on in the film there is a sequence that shows pre-existing footage of a boat sailing before cutting to close-ups of sailors, however the color contrast is off and makes for some very otherworldly visuals, despite Martin being a sailor who is used to the life at sea with men like these.
While not the worst film of 2019, Martin Eden does not come close to reaching its full potential. Filled with two great performances from Luca Mmarienelli and Jessica Cressy, aesthetically-pleasing cinematography, and a few interesting ideas, the film is dragged down by a lack of focus, significant pacing issues, and some very strange editing choices.
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