Thursday, 9 March 2017

The Young Karl Marx

I’m on the road these days, and thus my lack of reviews. Yesterday, James and I were in Heidelberg, where we watched The Young Karl Marx, which chronicles the lives of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the seven years (1841-1848) prior to the publication of their most important work, The Communist Manifesto

The Young Karl Marx is a French/German co-production directed by Raoul Peck. It takes place in four countries (Germany, France, England and Belgium) and its characters speak three languages (German, French and English). Unfortunately for us, the version we watched had all the French and English dubbed into German. This was, for me, the film’s biggest flaw, as some of the German dubbing just didn’t work (voices sounding too alike and often sounding ‘dubbed’ (understandably), which is, for me, a criminal offence in the world of filmmaking). I can’t really blame the filmmakers for this flaw, however, because presumably there will be a DVD which will allow me to hear all the words in their spoken languages (with subtitles) and that film will be much better than the one we watched.

Dubbing aside, I found The Young Karl Marx mysteriously compelling. I say ‘mysteriously’ because the way the story is written and presented would suggest that the film is lost between trying to present the ideas of Marx and Engels and trying to present an entertaining drama. In other words, it should be boring, but it’s not (at least not to me). I was riveted from start to finish, not least because the film deals with ideas that have not lost their freshness or relevancy even after 170 years (a depressing indictment, in my view, of those wasted 170 years, in which the capitalist experiment continues unabated and the world is run, more than ever, by the corporate elites, at the expense of the working classes). I’m not qualified to comment on the accuracy of the history, but I found the mix of drama and ideas to be just about right.

Another reason I found The Young Karl Marx compelling was the casting of August Diehl in the lead role. I found his performance convincing and sympathetic. Stefan Kornaske was solid as Engels, and Vicky Krieps and Hannah Steele were excellent as Jenny von Westphalen and Mary Burns, the women who played key roles in the lives of Marx and Engels, not only as their spouses (Marx didn’t actually marry Jenny until 1850, but they lived together) but also in the development of their thought. As James just pointed out, one of the highlights of the film was the way the relationship between Marx and Engels was portrayed, something that works because of the performances.

The cinematography and score were also excellent. I don’t know when The Young Karl Marx will come to North America, but if you are at all interested in the lives of these profound and essential thinkers, don’t miss it. ***+ (*** for the dubbed version). My mug is up. 

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