Complete A-Z list

Martin Eden


Stars: Luca Marinelli, Jessica Cressy, Carlo Cecchi, Marco Leonardi, Denise Sardisco, Carmen Pommella, Petro Ragusa, Lana Vlady, Elisabetta Valgoi, Janet Parker, Autilia Ranieri

Director: Pietro Marcello

Film-makers from several nations have been having a go at Jack London's story of seagoing hardship - portrayed in an autobiography by an illiterate seaman who, against all the odds, becomes a famous writer - ever since silent times. The Hollywood version of 1942 (with Glenn Ford, now a forgotten film) expanded the maritime story - whereas this Italian-French effort does away with it entirely (pity).

We begin on the quayside, where the recently unemployed Martin - as this is a continental film, the name is pronounced Edden - (Marinelli) wakes in a boat the morning after sex with a local waitress (Sardisco, particularly good) and saves a scion of the wealthy Orsini family from a beating, finding himself invited to the youth's home, where he meets and falls for Elena Orsini (Cressy).

Their affair segues him into becoming a voracious reader, with ambitions to write himself. After meeting right wing journalist Russ (Cecchi), Martin becomes politically and socially active, proving, a little improbably, an untutored firebrand speaker in the socialist cause. "Anything,' he tells a baying mob, 'is preferable to the pigs that govern us now.'

Set vaguely in the years between World Wars One and Two, the film inevitably sees the lovers part - Elena's bourgeois ideas are imcompatible with Martin's militancy - after the first publication of his work. Martin himself becomes an increasingly dislikeable protagonist as the film - punctured by tinted newsreel footage to no comprehensible effect - goes on, jerking us suddenly in the last two reels to a Martin in middle-age with bleached hair and bad teeth (though the ladies in his life look barely aged), burnt-out and disillusioned.

Prettily photographed in colours based on brown and solid turquoises, the film has two very photogenic leads, but lacks clarity of intent.

David Quinlan

Italy/France 2020. UK Distributor: New Wave Films. Colour by Kodak.
129 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 2.

Review date: 08 Jul 2021