Working Class Hero

Working Class Hero

The Italian-born filmmaker Pietro Marcello began his career in documentaries, with efforts like Crossing the Line (2007) and The Mouth of the Wolf (2009). He made his first feature with 2015’s Lost and Beautiful and now returns with his sophomore effort, Martin Eden. Based on Jack London’s 1909 novel, Luca Marinelli plays the titular sailor, who rises through the ranks of society after rescuing a young boy from an altercation.

ASFF: What did you like about Jack London’s book when you first read it?
PM:
Martin Eden, he’s an antihero. We are with him at the beginning for his tenacity and his desire to better himself through poverty, and through the use of culture – to overcome poverty. But Martin is an archetype. His story can be set anywhere. It can be set in Marseille, Naples, Glasgow. And it’s a simple story of a boy who becomes a man and then betters himself.

ASFF: Do you see it as a story of freedom?
PM:
Everyone has got the right to free and better themselves. Obviously, Martin Eden is a negative evolution in the end; it’s a story of everyone – it could be the boy who comes from the countryside and moves to London to prove something and to become a better person to overcome their origins.

ASFF: What do you think were the big cinematic influences on Martin Eden?
PM:
I don’t think a director can ever influence. Robert Bresson says that you shouldn’t have a model in your mind. But it’s important to have a method. It’s the method that’s important. I love cinema. So from Soviet cinema, I learned editing and spirituality within a film. From Italian cinema, I learned to be among people like Hemingway used to do but I just love cinema. I love French cinema. I love Italian cinema, English cinema. To me, it’s important. What’s important is the emotional content of a work of art. Cinema can be imperfect, as long as it has a soul. I always look for a need to say something in a film. The director has got something to say… there is a gamble, a vision from the director. I don’t like people staying in that comfort zone.

ASFF: Can you talk about the formal aspects of the film? Using archive footage and shooting on 16mm, for example.
PM:
First of all it comes from the pleasure. I’m a DoP as well as a producer. So I like to experiment because I think there’s still uncharted territory that is unexplored in cinema. I also like the alchemy in cinema. I do like working with film. I still have a relationship with film, with the cameras, with the physical aspects of cinema. Editing is the part that I’m most interested in because there is a vision and I’m trying to keep this vision together, like a Noah’s Ark.

ASFF: The film won a prize for your lead actor at the Venice Film Festival. Were you pleased with the way it was received?
PM:
Yes, the film was well received, but the important thing is to get to the audience. And the thing is that we sometimes give too much responsibility to the audience. People don’t choose what to watch… it’s the cultural mediators who choose what people should watch. Producers want executors, they do not want authors. They had their ideas, they created their films around the table, they got the script… and they just want someone to execute it. So there is no thinking behind what one wants to give to the audience. It’s all about entertainment.


Martin Eden is screening in cinemas now. For more details click here.

James Mottram