Another Marx (His Daughter) Gets Venice Film Fest Spotlight

September 7, 2020

VENICE — There's been a lot of talk about gender parity, feminism and equality at the Venice Film Festival this year, with nearly half the in-competition films directed by women. One of them, "Miss Marx," certainly backs that trend. 

The historical drama profiles Karl Marx's youngest daughter, Eleanor, an innovative British-born social activist and women's rights campaigner who wrote the first English translation of Flaubert's "Madame Bovary."

But Italian director Susanna Nicchiarelli also sought to highlight the less-than-empowered side of Miss Marx, who for years tolerated her louse of a partner as he cheated on her, squandered her money and otherwise humiliated her.

"The focus was on the dichotomy between the public activism and her public beliefs and the inconsistency with her private relationship," said Romola Garai, who plays Eleanor in the film. "We are left to wonder why and how human beings can be so eloquent on the one hand, and that can so not enter your psyche on the other hand."

Nicchiarelli said she was drawn to this internal conflict, which she said was both touching and deeply human. 

"That says so much about the way we are," she said.

To hammer home the current-day relevance of that dichotomy, the film's score includes punk rock music and Nicchiarelli spliced in archival footage of 20th-century labor protests to "whip the audience into this insistence" that the issues Marx fought for still haven't been resolved, Garai said. 

"The wheel of history has turned through the 20th century, but the same conversation about the dynamic around capitalism and who benefits from it is the same," said Garai, who said she first learned about Eleanor Marx's contribution to labor and feminist causes working on the 2015 British historical drama "Sufragette." 

The film "Miss Marx" is one of eight directed by women that is competing for the top Golden Lion award in the main competition at Venice, which wraps up Sept. 12. The Venice festival has long been criticized for the lack of female directors in its in-competition films, with only four films made by women in the 62 films that competed for the Golden Lion between 2017 and 2019, and only four women winning the Golden Lion in the festival's history. 

This year, 44% of the in-competition films were directed by women.

"I dream of the day when it will no longer be interesting to talk about how many women there are in a festival, and we will no longer count how many they are," Nicchiarelli said. "Having said as much, Eleanor Marx really is important. She gave an enormous contribution to history, also, for her feminist ideas."


It's one of the great ironies of cinema that many — not all, but many — of the most seemingly arthouse filmmakers make some of the most approachable films.

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