FILM REVIEW: The Young Karl Marx (2017)

Community Opinion & Analysis Feb 23, 2018 at 4:05 pm

4_TheYoungKarlMarx_PosterBy Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Le Jeune Karl Marx is a portrait of a revolutionary as a young man, whose ideas on inequality have more resonance almost two hundred years hence. What marks did the would-be father of communism leave in history are traced back in time in this handsome biopic rendered in broad strokes of incendiary zest and romantic appeal.

The film begins when Karl Marx (August Diehl) finished his PhD at age 19, then recounts his journey until the 1848 uprising. While working as a journalist, he heard about peasants taking branches from the forest undergrowth were being prosecuted for theft. Wood was freely shared for centuries, but the landowners had declared it belonged to them. Besides being a figure full of shaggy haircut, his being unconventional and big questions on private property turned him into an economist, especially capitalism’s most implacable critic.

1_TheYoungKarlMarxAs he and his colleagues at the Rhenish newspaper were being chased by the authorities for their coverage of debates in the local parliament, Marx lived in exile with his baroness wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps), who is portrayed in the film as equal in intelligence and dedication. Marx became stateless and was hounded from country to country in Europe before settling in London to further his work.

When he met the mercantilist’s son Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), it proved to be a start of a fruitful working relationship and lifelong friendship. Together with the apple of Engels’ eye  Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), a worker agitated by the conditions in Engels senior’s textile factory, they put forward ideas they spun with each other to break away from the petty bourgeois democrats and to champion the birth of the socialist labor movement.

The argument of the screenplay is that these radical men—with their drunken nights—would not be as successful were it not for the women characters around them. For sure, Engels, on whom Marx depended financially, sent small, infrequent remittances. But had it not been for Burns’s class consciousness, Engels would not have written his social investigation of workers’ life in England. Had it not been for Frau Marx’s support for him every inch of the way, physically, and psychologically, the bromance would not be able to make much impact on history.

In a dialogue with her husband’s collaborator, Jenny Marx flips the script: “Happiness requires rebellion. Rebellion against the establishment, the old world.”

3_TheYoungKarlMarxIn the birthing of the line “A spectre is haunting Europe” the two coauthors would spark the revolution sweeping the continent, the Christian League of the Just would be transformed into the Communist League and changed its central slogan from “All human beings are brothers” to “Proletarians of all countries, unite.” And the weight of these words from provocative young men never gets old.

Premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2017, The Young Karl Marx is set to a wide release on February 23, 2018. The timing couldn’t be as good: February 22 marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of the insidious pamphlet Communist Manifesto and this coming May 5 will mark the two-hundredth anniversary of Marx’s birth. (The Filipino translation Ang Kapital: Kritika ng Ekonomiyang Pampulitika by Prof. Ramon Guillermo is also accessible now.)

In the end, Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro) peels away the layers of the Karl Marx we knew with a cunning montage of world history crisis upon crisis. The moving image implies that the text is unfinished and liberation by way of revolution is necessary at the present.

The Young Karl Marx

Director: Raoul Peck; screenplay: Peck, Pascal Bonitzer; cinematographer: Kolja Brandt; editor: Frédérique Broos; producers: Nicolas Blanc, Rémi Greilety, Robert Guédiguian, Raoul Peck. In French, English. German. Running time: 112 minutes.

Starring: August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Michael Brandner, Alexander Scheer, Hannah Steele, Niels Bruno Schmidt