Hitting everywhere The Young Karl Marx, the new film from director Raoul Peck, is how often the three main characters smile at each other. It’s almost as if the actors playing Marx, his wife Jenny von Westphalen and his friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels – who sometimes calls himself “Fred” – can’t forget that they were starring in a film about the genesis of the one of the greatest ideas. An almost invisible self-awareness expresses itself in vertigo, even rapture.

We follow 24-year-old Marx (August Diehl) from his first arrest at the newspaper’s Cologne offices. Rheinische Zeitung in 1842 – during which he gently attacks the police – his exile from France to Belgium and the composition of the communist manifesto in 1848. Along the way, The Young Karl Marx revises any preconceived idea of ​​Marx as a grumpy, aloof intellectual: Peck’s Karl is edgy, charming, and decidedly not a solitary genius. Almost all of his achievements are collaborative; he shows little personal heroism, except a sense of duty and patience. And, unlike his pal Friedrich, he seems unable to hold back his alcohol.

When we first meet Karl, he is just a single voice shouting in a smoke-filled office as the police gather in the street. the Zeitung he owes his success, and yet he persecuted the chiefs of his staff. On the way to Paris, to form another newspaper! There, things calm down. We see him at home with Jenny (Vicky Krieps), an ex-aristocrat whose intellectualism is baked into her every move and sweet joke. Soon after, the pair are joined by a moon-eyed, puppy-dog Engels (Stefan Konarske), whom Karl adopts as his new best friend. Friedrich, fresh out of writing The condition of the working class in England, suggests that Karl complete his German dialectic and French socialism by studying English economists. And so the ground is laid for the completion of the Manifesto.

And that’s about all we get, in terms of plot and even character development. There is no significant crisis of faith, no relapse, no ideological confusion (although Karl and Friedrich clash by pamphlet with the Young Hegelians and, later, with the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon). Never does The Young Karl Marx seems in no way inclined to apologize for its use of unwavering ideological commitment as the main plot driver.

In an early scene, Jenny explains why she chose to marry an atheist Jew and raise their children in poverty: She wanted to create a new world, she says, and see that old world crack! His fervor is not at all disagreeable; the line is spoken tenderly and followed by an exchange in which she begs Friedrich not to make Karl party so hard.

Jthe young Karl MarxThe seriousness of is perhaps produced by a director’s deep identification with him: Peck, like Marx, experienced proletarian life (as a taxi driver in New York), wrote and reported as a journalist (in Berlin , where he went to film school), and eventually served as a prominent political voice (as minister of culture in his native Haiti, decades after his family fled the Duvalier dictatorship). Marx, like Peck, was a man without a country, an exile and a polyglot. No wonder, either, that Peck brings both the factuality of the documentarian and that of the fictional filmmaker. joy to his task. As with Peck’s 2000 biopic Lumumba and his 2016 documentary I’m not your nigga, the The Young Karl Marx pursues a burning interest in communicating overlooked social facts in ways that are both artful and largely historically accurate. (The joy lies notably in the film’s adorably comedic touches, including a historically unverifiable chase scene between Karl and Friedrich and the French immigration authorities.)

Like with Lumumba and I’m not your nigga, The Young Karl MarxThe writing of is largely inspired by historical documents, in this case the works and correspondence of Marx and Engels. And the film proudly uses French, German and English, reveling almost foolishly in its multilingualism. During a first meeting with Proudhon, a pun on the French word translate, to translate, as being near the word to betray, betray, isn’t glossed over in the English subtitles, but it really pisses off Proudhon’s translator, who later betrays Karl and Friedrich – get it?

Many of the scenes offer similar cheesy delights, either for their historical accuracy or their more shrewd sensitivity to history. A historically improbable but winning scene involving the manifesto will please more than one salon Marxist: we see what may be the most philologically significant word in the text: Gespenst, the specter haunting Europe, inserted on the fly. Then there’s the game of spotting the European historical figure that plays out throughout the film: Wilhelm Weitling, Mikhail Bakunin and Gustave Courbet all make appearances. The film also delicately highlights, but without naming them, black Europeans and Haitian diplomats.

Maybe because it’s not an American movie, The Young Karl Marx takes intellectual work, organizational work, and the work of building a righteous life seriously. There are no musical numbers. Jenny and Karl love each other, and they get a cool sex scene, but at the same time, the film preserves space outside of the bourgeois values ​​its characters have carved out for themselves in life. In one scene, Mary Burns (Hannah Steele), Friedrich’s partner – the couple were never legally married, despite having lived together for two decades – compliments Jenny on her daughters. Jenny then asks Mary if she and Engels will have children.

No, says Mary, she doesn’t want it: Friedrich understands her need to be free. If he wants kids, she adds, he can have them with his little sister, who is dying to drop a few. It’s a fun line, delivered with an almost disconcerting self-awareness, and it disconcerts Jenny. It’s a testament to Krieps’ acting that her dark eyes express exactly how an open, confident mind would respond to this vision of a life whose values ​​were so different from her own: shocked, then amused, then curious.

AKarl Marx’s film also raises a more significant question, which has little to do with the quality of the film and more to do – unsurprisingly here – with its means of production. The people most likely to see and think carefully about a Karl Marx film are also likely to wonder if a Karl Marx film could be anything more than an alibi for capitalism. But if capitalism has, at this late stage, concentrated more than half of the world’s wealth in the hands of 1% of its population, perhaps it is time to make a relatively mainstream film about anti-capitalists who are neither blunderers or schemers, like in the movie Coen. brothers 2016 Hello, Caesar!, or owners of large ranches, as in Jay Roach in 2015 Trumbo.

All along The Young Karl Marx, we see glimmers of all sorts of often unrepresented possibilities – promises of change without which there are no personal or political revolutions of any kind, in life or in movies. It is audacious that the subject of The Young Karl Marx is not the hero, that the biography of the young Marx is ultimately secondary to the history of the manifestoof the shared composition. The film flirts with bromance and with the theme of the revolutionary hero as a cover or as a generic triangulation of its deeper meaning, which is a more complex idea of ​​love: that, carried by love in all its forms – out of solidarity, and love for sex, and love for family, and love for friends, none of which are mutually exclusive or opposed, a fact on which the film is quietly firm – we can, as Friedrich once shouts at Karl, “Wow!” To wake up!

It’s ultimately what makes the film a true and much older kind of romance, the kind that shares something with partying and with socially transformative comedy (and The Young Karl Marx is quite funny, it must be said, and even jokes about the fundamental absurdity of workers’ meetings). Romance is the kind of rebirth, of transformation, of the realization that “everything can change”, that “nothing is forever”, as Karl tells a room full of Parisians at the start of the film – and that once a person has woken up, there is no going back to sleep.

Of course, Peck’s view of the working class is too rosy; of course the film idealizes the revolution. But this quibble seems out of place. At times, it is quite possible to be simply charmed by this good movie, which is precisely why a person can learn a lot from the The Young Karl Marx– a little about political economy, and maybe a lot about love and how to keep it free. “There is no happiness without rebellionsaid Jenny to Friedrich: There is no happiness without rebellion. But equally, there is no revolt without a promise of happiness.