4 Movies Like Martin Eden (2019)

Staff & contributors

Chasing the feel of watching Martin Eden ? Here are the movies we recommend you watch right after.

Loosely based on the 1909 novel, Martin Eden is a stunning film about the hollow success of individualism. The plot points remain the same: Eden, a self-taught sailor, wants to win the heart of the wealthy Elena Orsini. To do this, he strives to break into the upper class with his writing. However, in this film, writer-director Pietro Marcello adds another dimension to the anti-individualist story: he transports Eden from his original California setting to Naples—allowing for views of different cultures, languages, and classes. By intercutting between old film stock and lingering close-ups, Marcello draws from his documentary background to masterfully evokes the process of remembering. And in refusing to define the time period, Marcello recognizes that Eden's struggle is still ongoing today—and that his success is still hollow.

Poland's nomination for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2020 Academy Awards may have lost to Parasite, but director Jan Komasa's film is still utterly compelling. The crazy sounding premise is inspired by true events: after having had a transformative experience in jail, an ex-convict, played by the wiry, blue-eyed Bartosz Bielenia, decides he wants to become a priest. When he is told that his criminal history prohibits it, he goes down the path that got him into trouble in the first place and just pretends he is. Apparently, he does so quite convincingly—and serves the community well, which is collectively grieving for the victims of a tragic accident. For all his charisma, there's no way not to root for the crooked clergyman conning his way to the top. The complex character at the heart of Corpus Christi is refreshing and three-dimensional, and the smart writing of the film excels at exploring they grey areas of truth and religion. The ending, too, circumvents the soppy and the melodramatic. Thought-provoking European drama.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Łukasz Simlat, Aleksandra Konieczna, Anna Biernacik, Barbara Jonak, Barbara Kurzaj, Bartosz Bielenia, Eliza Rycembel, Jakub Sierenberg, Juliusz Chrząstowski, Leszek Lichota, Lidia Bogacz, Lidia Bogaczówna, Łukasz Simlat, Tomasz Ziętek, Tomasz Ziętek, Zdzisław Wardejn, Zdzisław Wardejn, Томаш Зитек

Director: Jan Komasa

At once intimate and sweeping, A Thousand and One seamlessly weaves Inez's personal turmoil and familial troubles with the systemic inequality that was rampant in '90s New York. The hideous faces of gentrification, poverty, and police brutality are constantly appearing in the film, not merely because they lend weight to the story, but because they are inevitable for people like Inez. People who, despite their best efforts at achieving upward mobility are continually pushed down by self-serving institutions. 

It's easy for social issue dramas like this to buckle under the weight of their lofty goals, but nothing about A Thousand and One feels forced. Just the opposite, the film has an authentic quality to it—almost documentary-like in its precise depiction of Harlem throughout the years. It's deeply personal and achingly tender, and everything else—the social commentary and the political beats—stems from that specificity. 

Genre: Crime, Drama

Actor: Adriane Lenox, Amelia Workman, Aven Courtney, Bianca LaVerne Jones, Delissa Reynolds, Emmy Harrington, Jennean Farmer, Josiah Cross, Naya Desir-Johnson, Rudolph Giuliani, Terri Abney, Teyana Taylor, William Catlett

Director: A.V. Rockwell

Rating: R

This slow Italian drama tells the true story of Mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta, who became the highest-profile Mafia informant at the time of his arrest in the 1980s.

Tommaso, while supervising a criminal network in Sicily, moved to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to attempt a more legal and quieter life. His role catches up with him and he is quickly arrested.

As a biopic, it rarely depicts violence or glorifies organized crime. Instead, it attempts to document the life of a Mafia boss more realistically: a life of always looking over one's shoulder and of constant loss. Eventually, the movie focuses on what it would take for a man like Tommaso to flip, and what that would cost him.

The Mafia topic might feel overdone, but watching this, it's startling to realize how few thorough character studies have come out in film.

Genre: Crime, Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alessio Praticò, André Lamoglia, Antonio Orlando, Aurora Peres, Bebo Storti, Bruno Cariello, Cinzia Susino, Claudio Collovà, Dino Santoro, Domenico Gennaro, Edoardo Strano, Elia Schilton, Fabrizio Ferracane, Fabrizio Romano, Fausto Russo Alesi, Francesco Emanuele Chinnici, Giovanni Calcagno, Giovanni Vettorazzo, Goffredo Maria Bruno, Jonas Bloch, Leo Wainer, Luciano Quirino, Ludovico Caldarera, Luigi Lo Cascio, Marco Gambino, Maria Amato, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Maria Fernanda Cândido, Michelangelo Cicirello, Nicola Calí​, Nicola Calì, Nicola Siri, Nunzia Lo Presti, Pier Giorgio Bellocchio, Pierfrancesco Favino, Pietro Pace, Raffaella D'Avella, Raffaella Lebboroni, Rainer Cadete, Sergio Pierattini, Tommaso Buscetta, Vincenzo Ferrera, Vincenzo Pirrotta

Director: Marco Bellocchio

Rating: R

Anyone who’s seen Pietro Marcello’s Martin Eden will likely recognize the director’s fingerprints all over Scarlet. There’s the same haunting collage of colorized archival documentary footage and fictional scenes here, the same fascination with physical labor and historical moments of transition, the same loose approach to literary adaptation. Scarlet’s story is drawn from a 1923 Russian adventure novel but the action is transposed to post-WW1 rural France, where soldier Raphaël (Raphaël Thiéry) returns from the war to discover his wife has died and left him with a daughter, Juliette (Juliette Jouan). The local townsfolk reject the duo, but they manage to keep their head above water thanks to a kindly landlady with a storybook belief in magic and Raphael’s Geppetto-like skills at whittling beautiful toys from blank blocks of wood.

The fairy tale touches don’t stop there: the color grading and bucolic setting give the movie the look and texture of a fable, while Juliette is enraptured by a prophecy — given to her by a witchy forest woman — that tells her she’ll one day be swept away by scarlet sails in the sky. It’s a charming, if airy, yarn, but the craftsmanship in front of and behind the camera makes Scarlet a gorgeous escape.

Genre: Drama, History, Romance

Actor: Anne-Lise Heimburger, Annette Trumel, Antonin Stahly-Vishwanadan, Arthur Orcier, Bernard Blancan, Boris Gillot, Ernst Umhauer, François Négret, Iliana Zabeth, Juliette Jouan, Karim Rouabah, Lolita Chammah, Louis Garrel, Natascha Wiese, Noémie Lvovsky, Pierre Nisse, Raphaël Thiéry, Rémy Roubakha, Vincent Pietton, Yolande Moreau

Director: Pietro Marcello