After saving Arturo, a young scion of the industrial middle class, from a beating, the sailor Martin Eden is invited to the boy's family home. Here he meets Elena, Arturo's beautiful sister, and falls in love with her at first sight. The cultured and refined young woman becomes not only the object of Martin's affections but also a symbol of the social status he aspires to achieve. At the cost of enormous efforts and overcoming the obstacles represented by his humble origin, Martin pursues the dream of becoming a writer. Under the influence of the elderly intellectual Russ Brissenden, he gets involved in socialist circles, bringing him into conflict with Elena and her bourgeois world.Written by
IN BRIEF: A pretentious artistic approach undercuts a strong story.
JIM'S REVIEW: (MILDLY RECOMMENDED) Martin Eden is an artistic muddle of style over substance. Loosely based on Jack London's semi-autobiographical novel, Martin Eden told the story of working class struggles and oppression set in the early 1900's. Director Pietro Marcello has taken that novel and transported that story in place and time: The title character now lives in Italy, although the time frame is purposely confusing. It seems to take place somewhere in the mid-20th century, although the anachronistic fashions and technological devices collide frequently to raise some doubt.
Plot details remain the same as Mr. Marcello follows the same basis premise of the book. A working class man searches for a better life. Doing menial jobs, he yearns for a better education and wants to become a published writer. Martin's ultimate goal is important to him, as he has fallen in love with a rich and pampered upper-class girl from a strictly bourgeois family. Martin meets other figures that spur him into action during his class struggle for success, with tirades against socio-economical injustice and protests about socialism, democracy, unions, and the rights of individuals being freely bantered about throughout the film.
We follow Martin's journey with high interest and remain captivated by the film despite constant cross-cutting of archival footage that adds atmosphere and further confusion. The handling of these jarring images is innovative yet infuriating as it addles the moviegoing audience. Mr. Marcello's vision upends the essential storytelling and overcomplicates his movie with these flourishes. (At one point, I wondered if these cinematic intrusions were a political statement of society's ills, Martin's actual written stories brought to life, or just heavy-handled historical documentations from that century...I still don't know. What I do know is that the overall effect remains jarring and undercuts the narrative.)
Through 2/3 of the film, this reviewer was intrigued with Mr. Marcello's bold approach to the material despite the aforementioned major flaws in his execution. But the last third of the film makes absolutely no sense. Leaps of logic are everywhere. Once the ship literally sinks (and it does), the story bounces ahead to an entirely different Martin, one with dyed blonde shoulder-length hair and rotting front teeth who is cynical about life but still rants against the inequities of wealth and power. The final shot negates everything before it. (Again I wondered if I skipped a reel or two due to the lack of continuity.)
The cast is uniformly strong, especially Luca Marinelli in the title role. His 50's matinee idol good looks create a likable hero and the actor is excellent in his well-defined role. Jessica Cressey makes an attractive love interest, although their relationship is predictable in its conclusion. Adding fine support in their supporting roles are Carmen Pommella and Carlo Cecchi.
All in all, Martin Eden is too artsy for its own good. It forgets its own working class roots. Less artistic license would have delivered a stronger film. Ostentatiousness reigns. When style overrides the story, one questions its real purpose. The film puts on airs that only the bourgeois could love. Martin would have railed against it. (GRADE: C+)
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