A film 10 years in the making, Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx premiered Friday night at the Metrograph theater in New York. Following the screening, audiences were joined by the Oscar-nominated director for a very candid conversation about the revolutionary minds that provoked a social movement.
We are introduced to Karl Marx (August Diehl) as a struggling 26-year old writer whose ideas to challenge capitalism expand far beyond his resources to achieve the change he seeks. While in exile in 1844 Paris with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) and their two infant daughters, he meets the young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), a reluctant member of the bourgeois and son of a factory owner, who writes on his first-hand observations of the inhumane conditions of the working class. This union sparks an intellectual counterpart bromance that leads to an evolution of ideas responsible for forming of The Communist League and ultimately to the publication of The Communist Manifesto. A historic text that would launch a massive labor class uprising and would continue to be cited to this day.
It was important to Peck that this film did not unfold like a typical Hollywood biopic, where the facts would fall secondary to crowd-pleasing storytelling. He did not want to invent anything, but instead find a real moment in these people’s lives to push the story. He knew that biographies would come with their fair share of contradictions and interpretations and so he preferred to go straight to the source; studying the letters between Marx, Friedrich, and Jenny which he describes as “beautiful, sincere, and intimate.”
Peck, whose documentary of James Baldwin I Am Not Your Negro (2016) was nominated for an Academy Award, considers both Marx and Baldwin his mentors and credits Marx as “the genius who explained the society we live in today.” Audience members acknowledge how timely this 19th century story feels to our current struggles in class division and the difficulties in forming and sustaining a successful movement to fight against the oppressive. Peck reminds us that “being divided weakens our ability to respond to the bigger monster” a sentiment that brings the crowd to a roaring applause.
The film, for which The Orchard holds US distributions rights, has began it’s theatrical release at The Metrograph in New York and Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles, and will be available on digital platforms beginning March 6.