Martin Eden

ROMANTIC DRAMA; 2hr 9min (Italian with subtitles)

STARRING: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Carlo Cecchi

Answered prayers: Marinelli

Striding through his star-making scenes, the young Martin Eden (Marinelli) is an Italian sailor with strapping, matinée-idol looks, excellent hair and a burning desire for betterment. “So, the world is stronger than me,” he decides in his opening sentence. “Against its power I have nothing but myself.”


His evolution takes every scrap of that resolve: having left school at age 11, Martin has his homework cut out for him, especially since his grand plan is to become a writer. The incentive is there, rooted in his love for ladylike aristo Elena (Cressy) and his bookworm’s passion for knowledge. But for the man who came from nothing, the path in director Pietro Marcello’s panoramic 2019 Venice Film Festival darling is uphill all the way.


The Martin of Jack London’s 1909 novel hails from Oakland, California. A politically divided Naples works just fine for him in this loosely modernised adaptation, however, with the cruelty of the city’s class structure and the turmoil of inequity that roils its poor. Disavowing socialism for individualism, Martin is nonetheless rejected by an appalled Elena, loses a venerated buddy (Cecchi, a master class in worldly style) to the dark side, then gets plastered and fights a duel for audience entertainment. Mio Dio.


In the plus column, after years of rejections his heartfelt books are going great guns — not that this pleases him. In fact, nothing pleases him anymore, for a dissolute-looking Martin is a victim of his answered prayers. He’s a burnout wrapped in a train wreck, repulsed by the material success that makes a mockery of his original, authentic self, and Marinelli tears into his disenchanted fury with the feral relish of a trapped animal.