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SIFF Closing Night Gala: The Young Karl Marx (Le jeune Karl Marx) - Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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SIFF Closing Night Gala: The Young Karl Marx (Le jeune Karl Marx)
SIFF's capsule summary: "Director Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) presents a lush period drama that joins 26-year-old Karl Marx (August Diehl) and his wife Jenny in exile in Europe, where they meet Friedrich Engels, who provides the final piece needed for the foundation of Marxist theory." (France, 2017, 118 minutes)
SIFF link: The Young Karl Marx

The Young Karl Marx focused mainly on Marx's friendship with Friedrich Engels, and to an extent their development of communist philosophy. Marx was an angry, rather disagreeable character, who wasn't very healthy (he's now believed to have suffered from an uncomfortable chronic skin disease), drank too much, smoked too many cheap cigars, and struggled to get his publishers to pay him for his writing. But he had a sweet, loyal wife and children, and his friendship with Engels.

Engels was what would be known as a "limousine liberal" today: a rich person who actually cared about the plight of the poor. He was a healthy happy guy, except for his feelings of guilt about his own bourgeois status. Without their life-long friendship, neither would have been as successful as philosophers.

The side of the film that focused on Marx, his wife Jenny, Engels and his long-term relationship partner, and their philosopher allies rivals was more successful; they were a bunch of interesting people with interesting adventures in exile from this or that country where their philosophy upset the authorities. (Or at least the film portrayed them as interesting people.) The film was somewhat less successful at portraying the development of communism – but that's a difficult task anyway; it's a huge topic, and the only thing less interesting on screen than philosophers debating philosophy is philosophers writing their articles and books. Fortunately for the film, the emphasis was more on the people than on communism itself.

One puzzle through most of the film was why it chose to tell the story of Marx and Engels at all. Were the co-writers Raoul Peck (who also directed) and Pascal Bonitzer advocates of communism? Were the horrified by it? Or just interested in the people who developed it? A montage that played over the closing credits seemed to offer an answer:
[Spoiler (click to open)] The montage depicted a multitude of scenes of war and misery that happened either in the name of Communism or in resistance against Communism. Best I can tell, the film-makers saw a story in the development of communism, but didn't approve.

My personal opinion, based on Marx and Engels (as depicted in the film, and what little I know from other sources), is that they were brilliant philosophers, and recognized a genuine problem in the exploitation of workers by the "bourgeoisie", but their solution, communism, was a cure worse than the disease. I doubt that they understood what horrors would be committed in the name of their philosophical creation, and I think they would have been horrified by it. But they did create a monster.
Back on topic.

The writing dragged most of the times when the philosophers were philosophizing, but fortunately that wasn't too large a part of the film; I rate the writing good. The directing was very good.

The acting was all solid, and it was impressive to see the major characters bouncing freely between German, French, and English. (The historical Engels spoke at least nine languages, and I wouldn't be surprised to read that Marx also spoke a few more than the three in the film.) Some supporting characters seemed to fall short a bit.

One highlight of the film was its historical costumes, props, and sets; they were excellent. Although I've been more conscious of film scores since I started trying to write music, I didn't notice this film's score; it was unobtrusive, which is good, but didn't stand out as anything special.

7 Good

Since the script is the most important element of most films, and it was good, so I rate the film good overall.

Languages: German and French with English subtitles, and English.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating (yet), but I'd guess it would rate a "PG-13", unless some language slipped past my notice, or if a single shot of a life-drawing model and an artist bumps it to an "R"

Screening: 6 pm, Cinerama.
Audience: mostly full, about 560 seats (advertised capacity, down from about 800 before the remodel).

Snacks: cough drops.

Ads and announcements:

  • TV 5 Monde – This long-time SIFF sponsor typically has good ads.
  • Some sort of wine was advertised, but the didn't make much of an impression for me to remember anything else about it.
  • KCTS 9 – The local PBS stations was a sponsor for the film.
  • Alaska Airlines – This long-time sponsor has cute ads, this one about a barista who wants to travel.
  • Thank you, volunteers – This clip features a scene from Saturday Night Fever.
  • 2017 SIFF film montage – This was even more fun at the end of the festival than at the beginning, because now many of the shots are familiar. Nice editing job by Kris Boustedt.
  • Introductions of the film by SIFF Managing Director Sarah Wilke and Artistic Director Beth Barrett, both in their first full year in those positions.

Notes to myself:

SIFF statistics: 68 films (67 features, one short), 67 slots (including one panel), seven parties, including last night and two today. ("J": 46 features and seven shorts, five parties, including this morning and tonight.)

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