Raoul Peck, the director of I Am Not A Negro, has released a new movie based on a brief period in the life of the young Karl Marx.
IN HIS fine 2016 documentary I Am Not a Negro, based on a unfinished manuscript by James Baldwin, Director Raoul Peck explored the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin's reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr, - who were personal friends - as well as his own particular take on American history. It was a highly praised work and received a nomination for best documentary at the 89th Academy Awards.
This time Peck has turned his attention to the life and work of one of the true intellectual and political giants, Karl Marx. The Young Karl Marx is a project he began some six years ago.
Says Peck: “A few years back, while the world was going through yet another financial crisis, I felt the need to go back to the basics: The analysis of the violent capitalist society we are still embedded in, through these three young Europeans of wealthy families (Karl, Friedrich and Jenny) who decided to change this utterly unequal world."
Trying to adequately translate the life and work of the great man into one movie would be just about impossible, without taking a huge number of shortcuts. Peck hasn't done that. Instead he has concentrated on a brief period in Marx’s life between him meeting Friedrich Engels in 1844 and the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848 and the democratic revolutions in Europe of the same year.
Some reviewers have been lukewarm towards this movie, criticising it for being a largely straightforward biopic. Der Speigel actually thought that Marx wasn't a suitable subject for a biographical film . Another review, which ironically described the film as "too bourgeois", was largely driven by a thinly-veiled prejudice against Marxism and even tried to claim that revolution "was a young man's game", and that most of us grew out of such silly political notions.
Beyond the critical flak put up by the movies detractors, none of a socialist bent, we have a solid, thoughtful and engaging movie with a great cast. While this movie is about the young Karl Marx and, in particular, his relationship with Engels, it is also about Marx’s ideas and why they remain so powerful today. Peck reminds us that the point is not to just interpret the world but to change it. The director himself has said that the last thing he wanted to do was make yet another 'period drama'.
While the critics of Marx would like us all to believe that Marxism is some nineteenth century anachronism not relevant to our lives today, Peck says that not only has Marx provided us with powerful tools of analysis but also provided the platform on which we can build a better world.
Says Peck: "Today, Marx's long grey beard doesn't only hide his face: it eclipses the possibility of a serene reflection, far from polemics, and hinders the exploration of the thinkers actual scientific and political contributions, his extraordinary analytical capabilities, his humanistic aspirations, his justified concerns as for example the distribution of wealth, child labour, equality between men and women, etc - all major issues quite relevant in today's world - in Europe and elsewhere."
Bridging the nineteenth century with today, the closing credits transform into a montage of political events and personalities from the twentieth century, including Che Guevera, Nelson Mandela, and the Occupy movement - to the accompaniment of the music of Bob Dylan.
The Young Karl Marx first screened at the Berlin Film Festival in February. The American distribution rights were picked up last month and an Autumn theatrical release is planned. There's no indication, as yet, of a New Zealand theatrical release.