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Vicky Krieps, August Diehl, Stefan Konarske

“THE YOUNG KARL MARX” My rating: C+

118 minutes | No MPAA rating

Few things are as noncinematic as a bunch of intellectuals arguing economic theory — which puts the makers of “The Young Karl Marx” on the defensive from the get-go.

Their solution is a sort of mutation on “Shakespeare in Love” in which Marx and his cohort Friedrich Engels rail at the status quo while outrunning the police and creditors, finding time to vigorously roger their ladyfolk. Along the way they establish the international Communist movement and get to work writing Capital.

Raoul Peck’s film (his last outing was the excellent James Baldwin documentary “I Am Not Your Negro”) begins in the early 1840s with unfortunate peasants being routed by cudgel-waving horsemen for having the effrontery to pick  up fallen tree limbs for firewood on a private estate.

Then we cut to young Marx (August Diehl) arguing with the writers and editors of their recently-banned newspaper; he criticizes his colleagues both for intellectual laziness and for a lack of resolve in opposing the establishment. (The film finds  Marx often insufferably arrogant…but he’s arrogant because he’s right.)

The scene ends with the entire newspaper staff hauled off to prison.

Meanwhile in Manchester England Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske) is appalled at the inhuman conditions imposed by his father on workers at the family’s textile mill. When the proles protest by damaging a loom, Engels Pere fumes that “Machines are expensive…not like labor.”  His son leaves in disgust.

“The Young Karl Marx” is about how these two giants of economic reasoning got together, discovering their shared styles and common interests.  We also meet Marx’s wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps, Daniel Day Lewis’ love interest in “Phantom Thread”), a member of the French aristocracy who gave it all up for love and the workers of the world.  Then there’s Engel’s squeeze Mary (Hannah Steele), an Irish factory lass who takes no guff from anyone.

There are, of course, endless discussions of Marxist theory.  Some of these get heated when the talk turns to the boys’  sincere belief in  violent revolution.

“The Young Karl Marx” is about as well acted as it can be…it’s just that it plays more like a history lesson than a viable drama.  Good production values, though…even if most of what we see are gloomy garrets, dirty factory floors and dimly-lit taverns.

| Robert W. Butler

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