Portrait of the Writer as an Angry Young Man
Writers of all stripes (including performing arts and film reviewers…) will benefit from Marcello’s imaginative imagining of Jack London’s 1909 novel (here assisted by co-writer Maurizio Braucci).
Building up to WW I, Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli firing on all emotional cylinders from deep pathos to brutal outrage), realizes that, instead of being a travelling sailor, he would rather share his burgeoning thoughts about the world as he sees it—but best finish his truncated schooling first.
Two women spur him on in quite different ways: Margherita satisfies his normal libido (Denise Sardisco grows stronger with every appearance), while the comely Elena (Jessica Cressy, giving finely nuanced performance), can’t quite decide what to think about her paramour-in-progress.
Largely set in Naples (miles upon miles away from the original Oakland), Eden gradually understands that his desire to be heard will take a major upgrade in education, survival of reject letters (see opening paragraph), then finding a suitable mentor to launch his career (Carlo Cecchi as dying poet Russ Brissenden comes the closest in fulfilling the promise of both artists).
Marcello and his production team infuse the film with marvellous backstories (frequently told in sepia or schooner enhancing blue), even as he lets his auteur’s words speak for themselves.
Like the author’s passionate declamations and overarching ideas, there is more pain and angst than joy on all fronts. Seen in 2020, it is hard to disagree with that point of view, but, surely, (socialist, democratic, benignly autocratic…take your pick) there are better days ahead? JWR
The Wanderings of Ivan (La balade d'Ivan)
A semi-fine madness
Close but no cigar readily sums up this tale of a young Russian (Aram Arakelyan lights up the camera with his physique more than his role as Ivan) trying to leave his past behind and earn a few euros on the streets of Paris.
When begging in the City of Lights goes nowhere, Ivan moves out to the nearby woods only to realize that he is one amongst many men who earn their daily keep servicing largely married “gentlemen” looking for a “change”.
The extremely muscled émigré, sporting a perpetual Nirvana T-Shirt has his ups and downs, but loses credibility on two counts: the producers’ subtitles fail all viewers declaiming “speaking Russian” rather than translating what is thought or said (the remaining French fares far better); for one down on his luck in a “new” world, Ivan looks far too buff, has an on-again/off-again beard trim and immaculate nails (mostly) further belie his apparently sorry state.
Some redemption (notably the choral bits) is found in the original score (François Blanc, François Cyrod and Mathieu Fortin).
The most effective dramatic moments come from the grave: a wee bird being given the last rites and, much later, a lecherous predator (with a wad of cash) being tucked away for eternity. That moment forever soured by his assassin—readily the physical superior—emptying the hapless victim’s wallet, leaving one and all wondering just what the frequent “literary cutaways” about life, love and death actually meant.
With too many wanderings, this Ivan garners no one’s love, much less pity. JWR
Cory Wexler Grant
Art evades life
Here’s a film that delves into the lives of painters (good, bad and ugly)—all desperate for recognition, a wee bit of fame and next month’s rent payment.
Best of show is Betsy Randle’s portrayal of art aficionado Joanne (deftly echoing Shirley MacLaine in her prime), as the more-money-than-brains art devotee (a one-time dabbler) who sees a world of talent in Aldis Browne (Eric Landin dutifully mixing the paints and dropping his drawers as required) and decides to take him under her wing—possibly into her bed—to nurture his craft.
But the inevitable fly in the ointment is former school chum, now painting god, Ryan West (the buff Casey Deidrick). Years ago, Ryan humiliated the artist to be, before inexplicably apologizing as both went on to pursue their careers in the realm of abstract expression.
Armed with a monstruous cheque book and palatial digs, Joanne soon brings Aldis into her lair (with a curious gardener—perhaps more?—Bill—Patrick Gorman, appropriately docile/angry as required).
After a lavish opening of new works from Aldis (sold out thanks to his artistic-financial cheerleader) gets scathing reviews (“a Ryan West imitator”), Aldis heads for the hills above L.A. and into the solace of his now boob sprouting friend and colleague, Bruce (Chip Sickler).
From there, Grant’s film leaves the field of art and turns back to the narrative of love and revenge, settling some old scores (artfully employing the second helping of a “silence” collar), yet forfeiting the early promise of expanding on the challenging theme of just what does a genius need to produce to rightfully assume that mantle. JWR