by Daphna Whitmore

The_Young_Karl_Marx_film_posterThis movie is two hours of non-stop Marxist banter. Tossing around the ideas of Marx, Engels, Proudon, Bakunin and Weitling, with references to Hegel here and there, it should be as dry as hell, even for a hardened Marxist. It’s not. It is rivetting. At the Auckland International Film Festival the audience stayed and applauded as the credits rolled.

The opening scene has destitute folk collecting firewood in a forest, and moments later they are savagely beaten by police on horseback. Marx contemplates how gathering dry wood, fallen from the trees and destined to rot on the forest floor, can be treated as an act of property theft? 

Directed by Raoul Peck this movie is overtly sympathetic to Marx. Peck tells the story straight: Europe is seething on the brink of revolution and radical ideas are forming in tandem.

Based on letters between Marx and Engels in the 1840s the bond between these two revolutionaries is a central theme of the movie. Engels’  research on the condition of workers in England had caught Marx’s attention. Engels was already in awe of Marx’s brilliance and urging him to work on an economic analysis of capitalism.

The acting is good, and August Diehl plays a convincing Marx. He, along with  Vicky Krieps (as Jenny Marx) and Stefan Konarske (as Engels) are fluent in German, French and English which packs a load of authenticity.

The women  characters are not appendages in the movie, and rightly so. Mary Burns, a militant worker, played by Hannah Steele, is Engels’ defacto wife. Her  Irish working class connections provide Engels close insights into working class life. The dire poverty that Marx and his wife endure, and Engels’ angst over the need to maintain his capitalist income adds to the human story along with the historical dramas unfolding. The film culminates with the writing of the Communist Manifesto.

The 1840s were a big decade and more than enough for one movie to chew on.

The end is a short montage of scenes from Che Guevara,  Vietnam war protests, the Berlin wall coming down, Thatcher and Reagan, and more recent protests, perhaps reminding us the philosphers have only interpreted the world in various ways, the point is to change it.

Sadly it’s only showing in Auckland and Wellington. Other centres have the Kimdotcom and Helen Clark movies but no Marx. Very shabby political topics in comparison.

  1. Susanne K says:

    What a great pity it does not seem to be showing in the Wellington, Christchurch or Dunedin International Film Festivals. Yes, instead we’re going to get a film about Kimdotcom and another one in which Helen Clark pretends she cares about the poor and oppressed of the planet.

    • Daphna says:

      Thanks Mark, that’s good to know. I’ll amend the text.

      • Phil F says:

        I think it’s interesting that this film has even been made. There is clearly something in the air! In parts of western Europe, especially in the south, and in parts of North America, there is definitely a new interest in left politics, especially among young people.

        Even bourgeois newspapers, confronted with the growth of inequality and the rather dim state of contemporary capitalism, are having to relate to Marx.

        And in parts of the Third World, there is much more in the way of struggle. In Argentina, for instance, there has been a significant growth of the revolutionary left, which can now mobilise thousands and thousands of workers under its own banners.

        There’s not much sign of motion in New Zealand, sadly. So I wonder who all the people were who stood and applauded at the end. Are they the type of people that can do that and then disconnect Marx from any practical political activity today and thus go home and vote Labour? Or do they want something more?

        Also a plug: Karl Korsch’s mid-1930s book on Marx is the best thing I have ever read on Marx’s ideas. A few years before it was published, he wrote an excellent introduction to a new edition of ‘Capital’ too –

  2. Phil F says:

    In recent years there has been a growth of interest in Mary Burns and also her sister Lizzie who Engels took up with after Mary’s death.

    Last year saw the publication of the novel ‘Mrs Engels’, by Irish writer Gavin McCrea and there are some interesting articles in newspapers, journals and internet sites. Here’s one from the Manchester’s radical History site on Engels and the two Burns sisters:

  3. Thomas CSS says:

    I contacted the NZIFF asking if the we could extend the screenings to Christchurch. Suggested that the Canterbury Socialist Society would be keen to host an event in tandem in order to bring in a solid few dozen people ourselves. Sadly it seems the NZIFF licensing for the film was limited and they didn’t prioritise the South Island. Perhaps the licensing is expensive, I’m not sure.

    I suspect we’ll end up getting a pirated copy and having a free screening at a local pub who hosts us some time later in the year or early 2018. This review has me looking forward to it.