Martin Eden: Review

Martin Eden: Review

Martin Eden: Review. By Alex Crisp.

An Italian adaptation of Jack London’s eponymous novel, built around a ‘we-come-from-different-worlds’ romance. It follows parvenu author Martin Eden’s journey from rags to riches in the febrile political climate of pre-WW2 Italy, and his passionate love-affair with an aristocrat’s daughter.  Sounds like stirring stuff, but it’s marred by shoddy filmmaking.

Rhythm matters. Action, romance, comedy, all films and all genres are married to our pulses by editing. When those rhythms are disrupted unintentionally, it’s jolting. The editing here shunts regular beats off-centre, belying a lack of rigour in the production process. Beyond that, director Pietro Marcello employs a pair of aggressively arty devices that are always an eye-jab. Uno: annoying, unnecessary POV shots. This isn’t Silence of the Lambs. Due: Marcello’s framing of flashbacks. I appreciate they require a differentiating visual cue — audiences have to know what is and isn’t in the present. Changing shades of monochrome however? Pick a colour that fits and stick with it.

Accompanying the muddle in the direction is the chosen potpourri of musical styles, with musak, classical preludes and euro-pop all coming, clashing, coming again, and going. In a longer movie with more distance between scenes, they might have separated out into constituent parts. Indeed, it feels odd to characterise a 2-hour film as rushed. This contains the material for a sweeping epic, and 128 minutes isn’t enough to realise it —instead the narrative is inimically foreshortened. Take Martin Eden’s character development in the final act, for instance. The guy goes through one bad break-up and turns into a bohemian emo, and he gets one book deal and transforms from a pauper into a superstar. Both of these concomitant changes take place without a single coordinating scene.  

Ultimately then, the erudite screenplay that thrusts Jack London’s early-20th century political philosophy into cinema, ends up being an interesting footnote to those drawbacks, rather than the film’s centrepiece. There’s a whole other essay to be written on the debates about individualism, collectivism, romanticism, laissez-faire, and everything in-between that it attempts to convey. Short of wherewithal though, this is the essay that was demanded. The troubled writer stalking Martin Eden would understand that.   

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