The Young Karl Marx Screen 7 articles

The Young Karl Marx

2017

The Young Karl Marx Poster
  • The film exhibits all the traps of the kind of bourgeois biopic-cum-costume film that brings to mind Merchant-Ivory productions or, for that matter, Es war einmal in Deutschland (Bye Bye Germany, Sam Garbarski), which, like Peck’s, screened in the Berlinale Special section. Both films seek to impress viewers with their sense of authenticity accomplished through set design, yet, at least to this viewer, both fall into the same intellectual trap.

  • Marx comes off, above all, as a supreme tactician whose empathy remains abstract; the movie’s hidden hero is the radical humanist Wilhelm Weitling (Alexander Scheer), who foresees destructive violence arising from Marx’s ideological purity. The movie’s plush, cozy aesthetic and unintentionally funny melodrama are at odds with its subjects: revolt, theory, originality, and observation.

  • From its lifelessly anachronistic English dialogue to its Masterpiece Theatre lighting and production design, The Young Karl Marx tries to filter radical thought through the pace and aesthetics of a middlebrow drama. Its politics wrapped in trappings as familiar as a recycled period costume, the film seems so competently genteel that it comes as a shock when Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” bursts in over the end credits—an injection of ambitious rock ’n’ roll swagger that comes too late.

  • The film has evocative bits and pieces, particularly pertaining to the physical act of writing in the 19th century. . . . Yet The Young Karl Marx reminds one of the perils involved with making a film about brilliant obsessives: their single-mindedness, a pivotal and inescapable element of their success and talent, can grow repetitive and overbearing for audiences.

  • In any other hands, such a project may have been an unconscionable travesty, but The Young Karl Marx is salvaged by the fact that Peck and his fellow screenwriter Pascal Bonitzer clearly know their Marx. Peck sheds valuable light on the biographical circumstances surrounding the composition of groundbreaking texts... and even presents a vision of the actual act of writing itself, often a collaboration between the duo in the truest sense of the word.

  • It comes and goes in a tense dream of arguments, speeches, debate, and spectacle, Peck conducting a symphony of seismic shifts in thought, adorned with a series of snapshots of turning points in the lives of Marx and Engels. It doesn’t proselytise as much as it runs with an inherent assumption of the value of the ideas it portrays, taking a relatively dry series of historical events and making them refreshingly accessible.

  • The movie does not put ideas at the forefront, but it does present ideas with a solidity that’s admirable. Peck’s co-screenwriters Pascal Bonitzer, a longtime collaborator of the late Jacques Rivette, and the two clearly know their stuff. The movie is largely a story of personalities. Karl is fiery, brilliant, disorganized, passionate. Engels is, despite his courage and curiosity, a bit more of a wide-eyed innocent and certainly a more organized person.

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