The Solitude Of Success And The Defeat Of The Winner
In competition at the 76th Venice International Film Festival, Martin Eden is the first fiction feature by Pietro Marcello, well-known director of three prize winner documentaries: La Bocca del Lupo, Il Silenzio di Pelešjan and Bella e Perduta. Having been sceptical before the film, I was surprised by the fantastic interpretation the director has given to the Jack London’s novel. To set the story in Naples instead of California seems a bizarre choice, but a sailor may be a sailor in any sea, and that you may find poor people dreaming about becoming famous anywhere in the World. Moreover, respecting the personality and the story of Martin Eden, the director introduces pictures of the Italian emigration and pages about the struggle to survive, inserting the events in the first part of the twentieth-century.
In Naples harbour, Martin Eden protects a young man from a brutal dockworker and is invited to his house for lunch. Martin, sailor who temporary lodges with his brother, is astonished by the luxurious villa, and when he meets Elena, the young-man’s gorgeous sister, he immediately falls in love. As in the novel, the girl arouses in the sailor the desire to improve himself through the knowledge of the culture. For Martin, a fair young man, poor and ignorant, there is a long way before he can achieve his aim to speak and to write in a correct manner. He has worked on ships since the age of eleven and behaves like a sea-boy, but he feels that change is possible and he works very hard to become a writer. At the same time, he sees Elena regularly and she seems to like him, until he meets a loner writer, Russ Brissenden and is introduced to a socialist group. Belonging to a middle-class and daughter of a rich owner of factories, Elena decides to cut any relations with Martin.
Alone and without a job, the young man moves out of Naples where he is put up by a poor family who allow him to study and write. After submitting many stories to magazines and publishing houses, one is finally published and success beckons. This changes Elena’s attitude toward him. She declares her love, but it is too late: when an affair is finished, it is finished and, more than that, once having reached the top the sailor who wanted to be a writer has the feeling that he has betrayed his origins. He feels his life is not worth living.
After the first pictures, we forget California and the American environment where Martin Eden moves in the novel. Luca Martinelli brilliant performance and the way the director has chosen to tell a universal story about human emancipation and the struggle for life are surprising. A statement by Pietro Marcello helps to clarify the meaning of the film. “Let’s talk about a guy who becomes a man, but ours is also a political film: it talks about the redemption and betrayal of the class to which he belongs. It may appear as a drama, but it is full of stories and repertoires from the 1900s. In the end Martin sinks: it is the soul that flows down. In this there is also the confusion of our time in which we are all immersed. The doubt remains, the lifeblood that drives us forward.”
© FIPRESCI 2019
Text edited by Rita Di Santo