QUICK SNAP: LIVE FROM VENICE
This is a movie I wanted to like. The stakes were high. The biopic of a little-known feminist icon, doused in Marxist doctrine, directed by a Italian filmmaker and premiering at Venice. Sounds promising. What could go wrong? Well, quite a lot.
Eleanor Marx (called “Tussy” by her relative) was the daughter of Karl Marx and Jenny von Westphalen. Shewas born in London in 1855, the youngest of three daughters. She continue to fight for better working conditions, the end of child labour, universal suffrage and equal rights for men and women after her father passed away in 1883 until her death. She lived with biologist Edward Aveling (Patrick Kennedy) who consistently cheated on her. Ironically, he used his position of social privilege to oppress both Eleanor and his other lovers. He did not marry Eleanor because he never divorced his previous wife (hence the titular “Miss”).
The protagonist is played by British actress Romola Garai. The movie starts during Karl Marx’s funeral at Highgate Cemetery, attended by a handful of relatives and associates, including Friedrich Engels (John Gordon Sinclair). Eleanor delivers a tiresome eulogy. I’m not entirely sure whether the script is so contrived that it affected her acting, but one away or another Garai is wooden and lifeless. She squints her eyes really hard when she wants to cry, and delivers her lines with then enthusiasm of an Amazon courier. Think Adele on benzodiazepines and in period costume and you are halfway there.
The script is so poorly crafted that it often looks like a school play. The Marxist doctrine – the most interesting element of the film – is often delivered to the audience, fourth-wall broken, in an annoyingly didactic fashion. The music score is also very bizarre. Italian punk/ indie-rock is blended with jaunty piano notes. The moment when Eleanor finds out Engels’s illegitimate son Freddie is in reality Karl’s son (and therefore her brother) is almost laughable. A cathartic dance scene at the end, after Eleanor inhales some narcotic (maybe opium?) is cringeworthy.
Another problem with Miss Marx is that it does little to reveal Eleanor’s achievements, instead focusing almost entirely (particularly in the second half) on her relationship to her deceitful partner, and revealing her to be a sad and miserable human being. It reduces an unsung female icon to the role of another oppressed woman, relegating her activist work to the second plan. Eleanor Marx would be offended by such awful portrayal.
Miss Marx is part of the 77th Venice International Film Festival. Tragically, it’s running in Competition.