Cinema Review: Martin Eden | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, January 24th, 2021  

Martin Eden

Studio: Kino Lorber
Directed by Pietro Marcello

Oct 15, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Ah, to be a writer. To sit away at a typewriter all day, expelling one’s thoughts on the page and turning them into something meaningful and fulfilling. How romantic it all sounds. Or so Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli), uneducated proletarian seems to think so. Martin Eden is the story of one man and his ambition to become a writer. A man propelled by the desire to learn and find his artistic voice through self-education, writing about raw realities of everyday life. Martin seems to think the life of a poet and storyteller if the life for him, however meagre his education, however low his class.

What is it that drives Martin? Well, that seems to be something that Pietro Marcello’s film can’t, or won’t decide on. We meet Martin, a young, thick-set, handsome man that turns the heads of ladies everywhere. After rescuing a young man being beaten by some miscellaneous brute, Martin is invited to the young man’s home to meet his liberal, “open-minded” but nonetheless bourgeois family. Here he meets the angelic Elena (Jessica Cressy), a young student, well versed in literature and music who is charmed by Martin’s looks and innocent yet confident dopiness.

Here is where Martin’s first writerly ambitions start to rear their head. Martin and Elena fall in love and Martin vows to teach himself until he can mine for the talent that’ll prove his worth as a writer. He wants to impress Elena but he also wants to fit in. In several early scenes we see the former sailor laboring away in several jobs. Unfulfilled by the hard graft involved in such jobs he sacks it all off to perfect his new trade of writing, skipping from place to place. Throughout the film Martin’s efforts come to nothing. Rejections from magazines and a skeptical Elena spur him on though, and he continues his pursuits boundlessly. 

As a backdrop to Martin’s fevered endeavours Marcello drapes the film in the rumblings of a socialist revolution. Seemingly set post-war, during an unspecified period of the mid-twentieth century, Martin Eden avoids a defined social momentum that neither pushes or pulls Martin too firmly in any direction. Marcello is clearly making a point about socialism’s power in art, about a collective need to speak through art and about the way artists can define themselves more through community voice than individualism. But by lending a sense of timelessness to his film, Marcello compromises a clear set of ideas and instead floats about ruminations that make Martin into a passive observer, a man not needing a voice.  

Martin Eden is a heavily romantic film. It is romantic in every sense of the word. Romance not just between beautiful people but between Marcello and his film. Shooting in film is a romantic artistic decision that does lend an appealing quality to the film. To not specify the film’s era but to lavishly dress and style his characters in a specific era of clothing is a romantic decision. The notion of the struggling artist has been a romantic one for time immemorial. Even Martin’s surname (though from a book, I know) is a nod to the romantic, socialist idea of utopia. At every turn you suspect there is a reaching to please oneself here.

There is a grandeur to Martin Eden. One that could be bubbling with ideas, one ambitious enough to tackle ideas with gusto and strength. But Marcello pursues his film with too much of a romantic eye. He loses sight of what should be done with such scale. There’s honest work to be done here but a lot of what works in Martin Eden, is what also makes it too much of an indulgence.


Author rating: 5.5/10

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