Life makes a monster of a proud aspiring writer in this bold Italian take on Jack London’s 1909 novel. Most striking about director and co-writer Pietro Marcello’s heady, romantic spin on the story of sparkling-eyed sailor Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) is its sense of time and place. The Naples setting is so visceral that you can almost smell the furnishings in its fancy drawing rooms and sniff the gutters in the grimmer parts of town. The period details are intriguingly playful: costumes, hairstyles, cars and fittings and fixtures feel 1960s one minute, interwar the next. Then there is the archive footage which Marcello brilliantly edits in to make its portrait of city life yet more detailed and sensual.
It’s electrifying to witness Martin navigate on to the edges of high society: he falls for noble-born Elena (Jessica Cressy) and his search for literary greatness is inseparable from his battle for her heart. It’s a nakedly political film as Martin finds himself at the heart of arguments about socialism and capitalism. The buzz fades a little by the time his rise turns into a grotesque fall. It’s much clearer what drives Martin when he’s poor than when rich and morally ruined. Still, it’s a daring spin on history and the power, or otherwise, of the individual: a puzzle that is well worth trying to solve.
In UK cinemas Jul 9. Available on PVOD in the US now.