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The Young Karl Marx

By the director of I Am Not Your Negro

Raoul Peck is the Haitian director of the acclaimed James Baldwin documentary "I Am Not Your Negro". Now he comes to Berlin with this sinewy and intensely focused, uncompromisingly cerebral drama about the birth of communism in the mid-19th century. It gives you a real sense of what radical politics was about: talk. There is talk, talk and more talk. It should be dull, but it isn’t; the spectacle of fiercely angry people talking about ideas becomes absorbing and even gripping.

Poser for the historical biography The Young Karl MarxMarx is played by August Diehl: ragged, fierce with indignation and poverty, addicted to cheap cigars, spoiling for an argument and a fight. Engels, played by Stefan Konarske, is the rich kid whose father is a mill owner, with a dandy-ish manner of dress and a romantic mien, like a young Werther who isn’t sorrowful but excited about the forthcoming victory for the working class. The chippy young bruiser clashes with the arrogant puppy. But the ice breaks: Engels admires the clarity of Marx’s material thinking; Marx is a massive fan of Engels’s groundbreaking study of the English working class.

This is a film which sticks to the credo that people arguing about theories and concepts is highly interesting, and Peck and Bonitzer are aided in making it so by very good performances from Diehl and Konarske.The action of the movie proceeds at a steady, intense rate: a pressure-cooker tempo, which despite the periodic shouting and yelling, does not vary much. But you can see Marx visibly ageing from his mid-20s to the brink of 30, exhausted by the birth of communism and the composition of his Communist Manifesto. It shouldn’t work, but it does, due to the intelligence of the acting and the stamina and concentration of the writing and directing.

– Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian

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