Reading and writing his way to the top : A bold literary adaptation ‘‘Martin Eden’’ tells of a writer who fights and pays. The entirety of the 20th century - its promises and illusions and traumas - sweeps through the audacious and thrilling ‘Martin Eden’’.

An ingenious adaptation of the Jack London novel, the film follows its title character a humble young man, as he embarks on a program of self-improvement. Like a hero out of Horatio Alger, Martin strives to change and to advance.

A voracious autodidact, he succeeds. But his rags-to-rich path with its hard work, perseverance and bourgeois education proves far more complicated and finally more shattering than most upward -mobility fairy tales.

The story proper opens when Martin (a revelatory Luca Marinelli ), a sailor, is still rough clay. He’s a beautiful and raw masculine specimen, with a loose gait, an ominous scar under one eye and a nose that sits on his sculptured face like the prow of a ship.

 When he is not at sea, he lives with his sister and her family in a cheerless, suffocating house.

On land, Martin seems penned in, but everything about him - his restless body, jutting chin, quick fists -suggests he's eager to break free. His opportunity comes when he rescues the sun of a wealthy family from a thug.

Touching and vaguely menacing, Martin looms like a colossus. He's such an overwhelming presence that it's a shock whenever he and Elena stand face to face and you remember he isn't a giant.

Marcello lightly accentuates Martin's size using camera angles and other strategies : Martin is hovering over Elena when he announces he's going to write.

For the most part, though, his bigger-than lifeness comes from his feverish words ['' I felt a creative spirit burning inside''] and from a performance that can make it seem as if Martin were straining at the seams of his very being. His eyes bulge, his shoulders brace. He grows, he transforms, and then he invokes Nietzche.

''Martin Eden'' is an autobiographical artist's novel ''I was Martin Eden,'' London later wrote  - and a  didactic one. London was disappointed that critics didn't understand the indictment of individualism he advanced through Mattin, whose existential condition incorporates philosophical arguments of the day.

By transferring the story to the period between the two World Wars, however, hazily, Marcello extends those arguments deeper into the century, sometimes to unnerving effect.

Late in the story, after Martin's great and terrible success, he is toasted by a man whose bald head and loving talk of war suggest Mussolini, in a scene that could have taken place yesterday.

By connecting the triumph of one man's individual will to fascism, Marcello turns Martin into a time traveler.

This Martin is an emissary from the past and a warning for the present. For a time, he is also a hugely attractive, magnetic figure whose power Marcello builds only to coolly dismantle. [Few filmmakers do as much with jump cuts as he does here.]

It's easy to fall under Martin's spell,, to gaze at him as Elena finally does. The genius of ''Martin Eden''  is that Marcello makes you fall in love with Martin only to reveal  -as the journey devolves into a devastating tragedy - how easily we are charmed by the charismatic man who has absolutely nothing to offer.

The World Students Society thanks review author, Manohla Dargis.


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