Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival DAY 3: The Young Karl Marx and the forgotten idealism

Rupleena Bose

Oct,15 2017 11:14 18 IST

(Editor's note: For the next week, we will be publishing a fly-on-the-wall account of all that happens in Mumbai through the Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival. This daily diary will scope film and events to watch out for, as well as anecdotes and conversations through the festival.)

A wealthy mill owner and a friend of Frederick Engels’s plutocratic father is challenged by Karl Marx about child labour. He looks rich and they (Marx, Engels and Mary Burns) look radical, misplaced in a mansion that is a reminder of the deep divide of class that surrounds them.

He tells him child labour was the order of the society, the law of the nature. Marx corrects him, ‘market forces are not laws of nature but man-made relations of production’. The man gives him a contemptuous smile and tells Marx that his words sound like Hebrew. The moment is taut and edgy and stands out, arriving at the mid point of the fabulous film, The Young Karl Marx by Raoul Peck whose 2016 documentary I am not your Negro on James Baldwin was nominated for the Oscars.

I like many other young undergraduate students in the University system had been taught the writings of Karl Marx by the best minds of the time and the entry into the world of ideas was not easy. The first detailed discussion on the writings of Marx was in a lecture on Charles Dickens and the context; the post-industrial world of England was gloomy and merciless. But there was so much to imagine of the period and everything that surrounded the revolutionary ideas and radical politics of the 19th century.

But never would I have imagined that years later, there would come along this film on the one of the most exciting years in history, right before the writing of the Communist Manifesto. And that is what I what take back from the third day of the Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival.

A grey and rainy day in Mumbai was the when I saw this film. If there was one film I could have regretted missing in this festival, it would be The Young Karl Marx, a film that is un-comprising and despite capturing an intense and difficult subject, does not fail to grip your attention for even a minute. The screenplay, art direction and the characters brought to life seem rigorously researched and perfectly executed.

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The film takes us through from everything we had read, the squalor and the lack that had lead to the early writings of Marx, the dingy underground rooms where the lamp burned while young Marx and Engels wrote and rewrote the Communist Manifesto. The film is equally about the deep friendship of Marx and Engels, their relationship the key driving point of the film. They meet and spar. Engels comes from a privileged background talking of class struggle and Marx continually experiencing struggle to feed his family and the materiality of his ideas. But together, they promise to be invincible even as the poverty and rigidity around threaten them. Marx and Engels have what they brought in the air of Europe at that time, the whiff of a revolution of ideas.

They become a part of the League of the Just only to fight and revamp it. From ‘All Men are Brothers’, their ideas bring the most important lines of the century; ‘Workers of the World Unite’. The film is set around the few years before the Communist Manifesto was written and young Marx and Engels are played to nonchalant perfection by August Diehl and Stefan Konarske.

The women in the film have interesting roles as well. A conversation between Jenny and Mary Burns stands out in its unconventionality about love, sex and jealousy. Mary Burns, the working class Irish partner of Engels, talks of their rejection of the bourgeois institution of marriage and tells her she never wants to have children as she would rather be free and fight. Conversations push the narrative forward, the action moves between London and Brussels primarily and the period that is captured stays firmly in your head much after the film ends.

And as I was wondering how the film will end because the narrative of the fight for equality can never really end, the credits announced the most radical and powerful closing. Against the soundtrack of Bob Dylan singing ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, a montage of the movements and political events of the 20th century unfolded on screen; Che, Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela and even the occupy movement reminding us of the power of ideas. There were other things I did at the Festival on the same day but just about everything paled in comparison to this film and what it evoked.  

(Also read — Firstpost picks: Films to watch out for on Day 4 of Jio MAMI 19th Mumbai Film Festival)