Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Young Karl Marx (2017)

Director Raoul Peck's tale of the rise of the author of the Communist Manifesto is a mixed bag. It isn't quite a biopic, focusing mostly on conversations he has with other thinkers in his movement while spending little time getting to know him as a man. It isn't quite an origin story, his Marx is already "mostly" fully formed in his ideas and rhetoric without getting into how he came to his ideas. It isn't quite a portrait of an artist as a young man, as Peck focuses more on ideas than on a story.

But I think what didn't work for me most about The Young Karl Marx is how Peck never finds a passion to latch on to. He takes the approach to historical drama where he just goes from event to event. First this happens. Then this happens. Then this happens. The narrative never comes alive, never feels like a story. It feels more like a summary.

Peck seems most interested in just letting his Marx talk, talk to his detractors, talk to his comrades, talk about his ideas. Set up, as it is, as a realistic life story this leads to just a lot of talk with very little to entertain. He throws in a chase scene at one point and the ending has a very inspired tone as the Manifesto is read aloud, but as a movie it's hard to keep focused as he plods through one conversation to the next.

August Diehl is charismatic as Marx, showing a powerful screen presence. But Peck doesn't ever exploit this effectively (how appropriate). The Young Karl Marx feels like a history lesson. It doesn't engender real passion in its subject. As a follow up to the remarkably inspiring I Am Not Your Negro, The Young Karl Marx feels stunted, feels a bit tedious.

The ending's attempt to sweep us up in sentiment feels out of place with the rather sterile rest of the film, and almost too little too late.

The Young Karl Marx
Starring: August Diehl, Vicky Krieps, Stefan Konarske
Director: Raoul Peck
Writers: Pascal Bonitzer, Raoul Peck

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