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BWW Review: Sedona International Film Festival Features MARTIN EDEN

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BWW Review: Sedona International Film Festival Features MARTIN EDEN

In its extreme, the struggle of man to contend with, prevail over or submit to the forces of either nature or society is the substance of the literary classics. Jack London's works, for example ~ The Call of the Wild, White Fang, The Sea-Wolf ~ exemplified this theme. Perhaps, none of his novels so closely aligned with his credo than Martin Eden:

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."

Pietro Marcello's 2019 eponymous adaptation of London's 1909 novel (with screenplay by Marcello and Maurizio Braucci) is a deep, stirring, beautifully composed, and, yes, intellectually provocative exploration of one man's search for meaning in a society that he could not countenance and that could not abide him.

Yet, the film is much more than a romantic profile of a quixotic autodidact. It transports to the 21st Century sensibility the same concerns as London and his compatriots expressed about politics and the class struggle at the onset of the 20th.

Luca Marinelli delivers a breathtaking performance (for which he received the prestigious Volpi Cup at the 2019 Venice Film Festival) as Martin, a man whose quest for fulfillment and resistance to the norms of society created an inner turmoil he struggled ferociously to weather.

A sailor by trade, Martin lives a hapless life, boarding with his sister and brother-in-law, until an altercation that embarks him on a life-changing journey. He rescues a boy (Giustiniano Alpi) from a beating at the docks and brings him home. There he encounters and is immediately smitten by the boy's sister Elena (Jessica Cressy) ~ elegant, artistic, and aristocratic. More than smitten, he is enthralled by her sensitivity for art and poetry.

In a dazzling moment of transformation, this self-described wretch feels the creative spirit burning inside him and declares his intent to turn himself into "one of the eyes through which the world sees."

As Martin embraces Elena as his muse, she encourages him to complete his education if he is to become a writer. Determined to become worthy of her and her family, he dives deep into independent study, reading voraciously, and immersing himself in philosophy and poetry.

What ensues is a rocky road to eventual prominence, marked however by multiple episodes of humiliation at the hands of family (his brother-in-law kicks him out), high society (Elena's family questions his talent and potential for success), and publishers from whom he receives a steady stream of rejections.

As the slings and arrows of these misfortunes weigh upon him, his countenance and demeanor transform before our eyes ~ the range of his emotions dramatically captured by cinematographers Alessandro Abate and Francesco Di Giacomo.

He becomes abrasive, hostile, and contemptuous. When Elena upbraids him for the rawness and darkness of his work, he strikes back. He lashes out at the affectations of the wealthy. All this angst and furor despite the warm haven and hospitality afforded to him by a gracious widow (Carmen Pommella) and her children.

The film follows what feels like Martin's descent into the heart of darkness ~ ironic in that here is a soul who, seeking to be fully free, is a slave to his ideals.

It is Herbert Spencer's philosophy of Social Darwinism that propels him into a fierce force of nature, writing and railing against society and its excesses.

At last, with the encouragement of a new found ally, the philosopher Russ Brissenden (Carlo Cecchi), his published works gain him both esteem and opprobrium in return for which he shows unlimited disdain for his audiences.

While Brissenden had urged Martin to fight for the wretched of the earth, claiming that socialism would give sense to his writing, Martin recoiled against the socialist ethic, believing that in its evolution, it too would become an oppressive force, subjecting the individual to the power of the collective.

Likewise, Martin railed against the capitalists. In one outburst, Martin proposes the equivalent of a wealth tax on aristocrats, the proceeds of which should be allotted to the "slaves" on whose backs their rich arts were created.

Martin's despondence and despair escalate even as his publisher has arranged a momentous trip to America, signifying Martin's rising stardom.

As the film reaches its sobering denouement, it must be left to the audience to determine whether Martin's travails and successes and fate constitute a celebration of his credo or a negation. Does he shine as a superb meteor, a man who lived rather than existed.

Herein, therefore, lies the power and beauty of this film, embracing with cinematic elegance and creative effects a man never at peace with himself, meteoric yet ephemeral, at war with the world for which he aspired to be the reader's navigator. It is a masterful and sobering piece of work.

MARTIN EDEN is one of the featured films at this year's Sedona International Film Festival.

Photo credit to Avventurosa

Sedona International Film Festival ~ ~ 928-282-1177 ~ Saturday, February 22nd through Sunday, March 1st.

Purchase passes at

Multiple venues: Mary D. Fisher Theatre, 2030 W. Highway 89A; Harkins Theatres, 2081 W. Highway 89A; Sedona Performing Arts Center, 995 Upper Red Rock Loop Road

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From This Author Herbert Paine