The Young Karl Marx (Le jeune Karl Marx) (NR)

Drama 118 min. February 23, 2018
By Alan Scherstuhl
You may wonder, as The Young Karl Marx unfolds, just why the filmmakers would build to the drafting of the work that would break the old world pretty much the same way the creators of a life-of-the-pop-musician biopic build to the composition of their subject's signature single. Here, handsome Marx (August Diehl) and handsome Engels (Stefan Konarske) argue handsomely on a gray Belgian beach until Engels declares, "We need a communist manifesto!"

And with that, of course, Marx's fire is kindled, and we're treated to a crisp montage sequence of creators creating: pens and script, sheafs of paper, Marx and Engels and their wives and lovers (Hannah Steele and Phantom Thread's Vicky Krieps) reading aloud, glowing with the same certainty Joaquin Phoenix's Johnny Cash did when he finally got down "I Walk the Line." The Young Karl Marx, directed by Raoul Peck (I Am Not Your Negro), is about writing and playing the hits. Here's an assemblage of scenes you've seen (impassioned young people on fire with the truth!), conflicts that come off the rack (the factory-owning father does not approve of his son's radicalism!), character arcs that bend just as you would expect them to (like all rom-com couples and buddy cops, Marx and Engels at first sight detest each other!)

That speech of Engels' offers a clue to Peck's thinking: a simple film that comprehensively sums it up. He's pitched Young Karl Marx not at Marxists but at some phantom audience of guileless but revolution-curious moviegoers, viewers eager to entertain a fire-breathing assault on capital and property but also wholly uncritical of the cornball manipulations of prestigious period-dress let-us-celebrate-great-men moviemaking.
Raoul Peck August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Hannah Steele Pascal Bonitzer, Pierre Hodgson, Raul Peck Raoul Peck, Nicolas Blanc, Robert Guédiguian, Rémi Grellety The Orchard

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