As his James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” continues to win over audiences and critics around the world, picking up multiple award nominations (including an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary Feature) and winning some of them, you should be aware that Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck directed a second feature film (while he was working on “I Am Not Your Negro”) that is set to make its North American Premiere at the Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF), the 43rd annual event that runs from May 18 – June 11, 2017.
Selected as the festival’s Closing Night Film is Peck’s “Le Jeune Karl Marx” (“The Young Karl Marx”), the period drama that fictionalizes the shaky friendship between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels – the German intellectual titans and fathers of Marxism – charting their completion of the Communist Manifesto, and the creation of a revolutionary movement out of which were born the theoretical tools for emancipating oppressed masses in Europe and all around the world.
In what the filmmaker has previously described as quite an ambitious project, the film stars German actors, August Diehl as Marx, and Stefan Konarske as Engels.
“Avoiding the habitual caricature of the old bearded revolutionary icon, this film is the coming of age of two young and daring intellectuals who will have an extraordinary impact on the world of the 20th century and beyond,” said Peck.
The film made its World Premiere the Berlin International Film Festival in February, and reviews by attending critics were mixed; a small sample:
— The Guardian (UK) gave it 4 out of 5 stars, calling it an “intense, fervent film about the early development of communism.”
— The Hollywood Reporter was less enthusiastic: “An intellectually rigorous but stylistically staid peep at the 20-something author of ‘Capita’l and ‘The Communist Manifesto,’ Raoul Peck’s ‘The Young Karl Marx’ is at once historically impeccable and a filmic disappointment… Revolutionary in content, not in execution.”
— Indiewire wasn’t as enthusiastic either, giving it a “C” rating, stating: “For a movie that trades in the same revolutionary zeal that has tattooed ‘Hamilton’ onto the zeitgeist, Peck’s latest project lacks the unbridled creativity required to capture what it feels like to turn the world upside down.”
I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t offer any informed commentary. But it seems like the fervor that “I Am Not Your Negro” oozes may be missing in “The Young Karl Marx” (at least with the above critics, and others). However, having seen just about all of Peck’s films, I’m most certainly looking forward to this one, as I have most of the others. He’s certainly been more prolific in recent years, directing 4 feature films (2 documentaries and 2 works of fiction) in as many years. In addition to “I Am Not Your Negro” and “The Young Karl Marx,” Peck directed “Murder in Pacot” (2015, a feature film loosely inspired by Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1968 drama/mystery “Teorema”) and “Assistance Mortelle” (“Fatal Assistance,” 2014, a 2-year documentary investigation into the challenging, contradictory and colossal rebuilding efforts in post-earthquake Haiti).
“The Young Karl Marx” cast also includes Vicky Krieps, Olivier Gourmet, Hannah Steele and Alexander Scheer.
Produced by Agat Films and Peck’s own Velvet Film banner, as well as Rohfilm in Germany and Artemis Productions in Belgium, Peck directed the international co-production from a script he co-wrote with Pascal Bonitzer.
A fearless filmmaker and activist who, I would argue, deserves even more recognition than he’s received over the years within the international filmmaking community, as one of Haiti’s few filmmakers of any notoriety, and a primary exporter of Haitian films to the rest of the world, Peck’s complex body of work is still sadly underseen – including “Lumumba” (2000) and “Moloch Tropical” (2010) and more. His directing resume begins in the mid-late 1980s, around the same time that filmmakers like Spike Lee, Jim Jarmusch and Wong Kar-wai were also beginning their directing careers. With the near-universal acclaim for “I Am Not Your Negro,” I suspect we’ll be hearing Raoul Peck’s name mentioned a lot more from here on.
A trailer for “The Young Karl Marx” follows below (no USA distributor at this time); unfortunately it’s without English subtitles.
For those in Seattle (or who will be attending SIFF), the festival Box office is open online at siff.net, and in person at any SIFF venue box office.