Another award winner at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival is Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden, based on the 1909 novel by famed socialist writer Jack London. It was given the Toronto Platform Prize and the jury proclaimed it, “a politically and philosophically provocative story told with extraordinary cinematic invention and grace, this film reaffirms a faith that is easy to lose in 2019: that the cinema we know is an iceberg with nine-tenths still remaining to be discovered.”
A young Italian sailor played convincingly by the charismatic actor Luca Marinelli, becomes enamored with a beautiful woman of higher status. To win her love, and not being able to afford formal education, he studies feverishly by himself to become a successful writer, while at the same time trying to overcome the class status that divides them.
Jack London, well versed in class consciousness, imbues his character with the dilemma of class limitations. Is it possible to move up the social rank without sacrificing your principles and your way of life? In his attempt, Martin often compromises, socially and politically, and eventually pays the price.
As he developed his confidence as a public figure, he spoke out at union rallies, against unions and in defense of individualism. Prompted by an intellectual he befriended during his social climbing, he proclaimed socialism as simply replacing one ruler for another.
But London said when he wrote the story most all reviewers missed the point that he had written Eden as a failed individual, who betrayed his working class roots, while many felt it was London himself writing against unions and socialism. Viewers of this film might easily miss that point also.
The Italian director, Pietro Marcello has become a master at creating visually stunning films that are unique and identifiable. The film is shot on Super 16mm film augmented by classic archival footage creating a mesmerizing nostalgia for and resemblance to the Italian neo-realism period of the 40s.
Another award winner at TIFF is the Lebanese film 1982, depicting the beginning days of the Israeli war against Lebanon. The jury lauded it “for its adventurous, imaginative style, and subtle, confident filmmaking, bravely juxtaposing and framing the universal innocence and charm of youth within harrowing historical context.”
It features award winning actor/director Nadine Labaki, in the lead role as a teacher at a school bordering on the edge of the war-zone in Southern Lebanon. The story would be strong enough without the element of an impending war that will eventually change the lives of everyone forever. But it’s location, location, location that brings value to this valuable human study, as bombs are heard exploding just miles from the country schoolhouse. Armored vehicles pass on the road next to the school, war planes are seen in the air shooting each other down. The growing terror unnerves the teachers and students, one of whom is the central character – a young boy who is just discovering girls for the first time. Here, it’s for a girl from the ‘other side of town,’ meaning Muslim West Beirut. (another West Side Story)
The sirens eventually start blaring and the trauma accelerates as the war comes to town in this formerly peaceful village just outside Beirut, inhabited by dedicated teachers and your average beautiful young students who never expected life to change in this manner. This is a very touching and well made film.