MARTIN EDEN – movie review

Kino Lorber
Reviewed for & linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Pietro Marcello
Writer: Maurizio Braucci, Pietro Marcello, novel by Jack London
Cast: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Denise Sardisco, Vincenzo Nemolato
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 10/2/20
Opens: October 16, 2020

Martin Eden Movie Poster

In the forceful prose that is the backbone of his writing, Jack London says this in his novel “Martin Eden.”

Who are you, Martin Eden?. He gazed at himself long and curiously.
Who are you? What are you? Where do you belong?
You belong with the legions of toil, with all that is low, and
vulgar, and unbeautiful. You belong with the oxen and the drudges,
in dirty surroundings among smells and stenches.
And yet you dare to open the books, to listen to beautiful music, to
learn to love beautiful paintings, to speak good English, to think
thoughts that none of your own kind thinks, to tear yourself away from the oxen

You need not have a whole lot of insight to note that these are the insights of a man who hates being lower class, who dislikes having to work for bosses who treat the workers like crap, to shoveling manure, toting that barge and lifting that bale. Eden is the name chosen by the author perhaps to sound ironic or maybe to illuminate the higher class to which he aspires. “Martin Eden” is considered a bildungsroman, a novel based closely on the author’s life and feelings and aspirations. The film, like the book, traces Eden’s yearnings for a life of the intellect, a life that would give him ease, and most of all a life to make him a worthy lover of a rich, beautiful woman.

As played with passion by Luca Marinelli and directed by Pietro Marcello, whose “Lost and Beautiful” deals with a man’s promise to a shepherd to save a young buffalo, Eden is a sailor who travels the world and who is told by friends and associates to stay with this kind of existence. It suits him. They warn him not to strive to be something that he is not. This passionate man, who has only a primary education, falls hopelessly in love with Elena (Jessica Cressy) after having met her and her impossibly rich family after saving the family’s young Arturo Orsini (Giustiniano Alpi) from the fists of a brutal security guard.

Given Eden’s sensibilities contrasted with the ethereal personality of Elena (who plays piano, loves paintings, and enjoys the trapping of a life not distracted by the need to work), Eden absorbs the advice given to him by the young woman to first get an education. The lack of formal schooling, however, does not prevent Eden from writing, and given his world-wide experiences at sea, he has experiences to project. But his stories are rejected time after time (think of John Grisham whose manuscripts were rejected some thirty times), so Eden hopes to gain the requisite literary touch as a feverish reader.

He may have gotten nowhere with his writing or his courtship had it not been for a kind widow Maria (Carmen Pommella) who had “known love” and gives him room and board; and Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), a writer and editor, who sees potential in his prodigy. Still Eden remembers his roots, shown convincingly enough when he picks up a waitress (Denise Sardisco), comparing her favorably with his upper-class love. His desire for Elena, however, is waning.

Eden has a run with politics brought on by the demands of working class people who are fighting for socialism. You might think that Eden would agree, but instead, having read the libertarian writings of Herbert Spencer, he rises to the podium and, to the disgust of the crowd, announces that subordinating the individual to the community is wrong, and that evolution teaches that we will always have masters.

“Martin Eden” is of epic scope, the kind of film that could easily have gone on for three hours, digging ever so much more deeply into the principal character’s metamorphosis. As the picture stands, filmed with evocations of the color of Neapolitan streets by Alessando Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo in Balzana Santa Maria La Fossa and Naples, “Martin Eden” is an enterprise that would likely garner the respect of Jack London.

129 minutes. © 2020 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+


HITLER’S HOLLYWOOD – movie reveiw


Kino Lorber
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Director: Rüdiger Suchsland
Screenwriter:  Rüdiger Suchsland
Cast:  Hans Albert, Heinz Rühmann, Zarah Leander, Adolf Hitler, Ilse Werner, Joseph Goebbels, Marianne Hoppe, Gustaf Gründgens, Hermann Göring, Leni Riefenstahl, Wilhelm Fürtwangler, Leni Riefenstahl
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 4/2/18
Opens: April 11 at New York’s Film Forum, 209 Houston St.

In the film’s sharpest quote, documentary director Rüdiger Suchsland reminds us of Hannah Arendt’s pithy bon mot that “What convinces the masses are not facts, not even invented facts, but the consistency of the illusion.”  Remarkable, isn’t it, how this could be applied to our own U.S. government, whose commander-in-chief dismisses science as fake. Then, through the repetition of the Big Lie, he tries to influence our thinking about the comically absurd notion that Russia did not collude in the 2016 presidential election, that the New York Times is failing, that America is becoming great again.  And when he as recently as April 2018 announced “Who will pay for the wall?” receives the reflexive cheer “Mexico.” He seems to have succeeded in convincing large groups of its absurdity simply by being consistent.  Some of us have illusions.

And illusion was the name of the game in Germany between the accession of Hitler in 1933 and his downfall in 1945.  Understanding that to infuse the German nation with courage, with joy, with the belief that the thousand-year Third Reich would make Germany great again after its defeat in World War I, he entrusted Joseph Goebbels with the job of propaganda chief.  Goebbels would control the media.  After the shutting down of all independent and private film companies, Goebbels took on the task of censoring, encouraging, discouraging and pretty much directing German cinema behind the scenes during that barbaric period in his country’s history.

“Hitler’s Hollywood” unfolds all manners of German filmmaking with scores of shots from that country’s productive celluloid mills. Two themes emerge: A) Germans are joyful; and B) Germans yearn for death in the service of the Fatherland.  If the latter notion brings the jihadists to mind, you’ve been paying attention.

Some one thousand movies produced by Germany from 1933-1945.  Some are lavish like our own musicals of their golden age here in the U.S. (think of “The Music Man,” “Meet Me in St. Louis,” “South Pacific,” “Carousel”) while evoking as well “Chiquita Banana” with its kitschy Latin beat, bursting forth with a song that would become the banana brand’s commercial theme. Of the 1,000 productions, director Rüdiger Suchsland—whose “From Calgari to Hitler” focused on the collective cinema spirit of the Weimar Republic—500 were comedies, 300 were melodramas thematically about dying for the Fatherland, most of the rest included war movies and costume dramas.  Films promoting anti-Semitism seem surprisingly few, perhaps because the propaganda ministry did not want the public to face its reality.  Among the exceptions was one in which the idea of euthanasia is pronounced, specifically for the old and infirm.

Rather than give a laundry list of the most kitschy, the most evil, the most lavish of the films, you are encouraged to check the complete list on Wikipedia:  There you may figure out which of the final movies of that government challenged the big money of Hollywood and Bollywood with its cast of 100,000 largely uniformed extras and ten thousand cannons.

Director Suchsland has noted in an interview that “the final months of the Third Reich saw a wave of suicides, hypothesizing that people looked on their system as a film (Ronald Reagan anyone?), one with no happy ending.  “People did not want to leave the cinema.”

Unrated.  105 minutes.  © 2018 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – B+
Acting – B
Technical – A-
Overall – B+