The Young Karl Marx

Studio: The Orchard
Directed by Raoul Peck

Feb 23, 2018 Web Exclusive
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It goes without saying that Karl Marx is among the most important 19th Century political theorists responsible for modern social science. Regardless of support or criticism for his philosophies, his life’s work has significant influence worldwide. Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) takes us back to the humble and complicated beginnings of Marx as a brash, young revolutionary, engaging a sublime multilingual cast who glide beautifully via an impeccable production design. However, The Young Karl Marx ultimately is an uneven, over-abbreviated story that suffers from mishmashed direction and a screenplay severely lacking in overall depth.

After an opening scene where nobleman’s guards beat impoverished citizens for stealing firewood, Karl Marx (August Diehl) is introduced as an angry, poor German, trying to shape the world with his writing, and deemed too reactionary, even by his peers. After a brief sidestep to introduce his strongly supportive wife, Jenny von Westphalen-Marx (Vicky Krieps), we are introduced to Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), the brilliant son of a wealthy factory owner, who is disgusted with contemporary social class exploitation. After the pair of Marx and Engels meet, their friendship is explored as they work their way up the socialist ranks, dodge governments, and take on rival factions, until they finally write the Communist Manifesto.

Initially showcasing the desires, tribulations, and mistakes of Marx as a man struggling with his mind, it gives way to a by-the-numbers chamber drama worthy of a soap opera. Even the most exciting political intrigue (and there are several great moments) in Peck and Pascal Bonitzer’s screenplay is neutered by overly-cliched pontificating and shallow introspection, losing considerable steam even before the first hour concludes. However, the runtime is primarily carried by the extraordinary cast, led by Diehl, Konarske, Hannah Steele, and Alexander Scheer.

Benoit Barouh and Christophe Couzon’s production design is original, finely-crafted, and peculiar, each of the gloomy set pieces coming off fairly believable. However, Kolja Brandt’s apathetically distant cinematography and Peter Bernaers’ muted color palette suck the life out of almost every scene (sparing a single highly immersive dream sequence). Far too much time is also spent on a pair of poorly photographed, cringe-inducing sex scenes, and a slapstick chase sequence between Marx, Engels, and a gaggle of military police.

Regardless of the film’s historical accuracy or not, it remains too safe on such a controversial figure, and yet too supercilious to be taken seriously. Though scattershot with a stellar ensemble cast and an obvious sincerity for its subject, The Young Karl Marx fumbles too often to be emotional compelling or intellectually stimulating.

www.der-junge-karl-marx.de

Author rating: 5/10

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