This is an adaptation of Jack London’s eponymous autobiographic novel, transported by Italian director/writer Pietro Marcello from California to Naples, although many of the details are kept the same, not least the name of the main character in London’s life retold.
Martin Eden (Luca Marinelli) is an angry young man, with angular and angry features, born into and brought up in poverty, whose only ambition is to become a writer and incredibly rich. When he rescues a young man, Artur, from being beaten up on the quayside, he is taken home as to meet his wealthy businessman father and falls in love with his daughter, Elena (Jessica Cressy). With her rather disapproving encouragement (she would rather he joined the family business) he begins the cycle of endless rejection by the publishers – in abject poverty – until suddenly one says ‘yes’, and his life begins to transform.
If only life was that simple! This is a story about how wealth cannot bring happiness or, at least, not that achieved through creativity rather than via the mucky context of big business, and the poison of success. The more admired and feted Martin is, the greater his despair, born out of his belief in social individualism which immediately alienates him from Elena and her family. Despite the inevitable direction of the narrative, it is in the telling that the film brings pleasure. It is beautifully shot, with coloured archive footage bringing pre-First World War Italy to life. It is compelling and absorbing and surprisingly enjoyable despite its gloomy aura.