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VENICE 2020 Competition

Susanna Nicchiarelli • Director of Miss Marx

“This film is about the private and the public”

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- VENICE 2020: We asked Susanna Nicchiarelli, the director of Miss Marx, about her competition entry hinging on the youngest daughter of the famous thinker

Susanna Nicchiarelli • Director of Miss Marx
(© La Biennale di Venezia/Foto ASAC/Giorgio Zucchiatti)

Shown in the Venice Film Festival’s main competition, Miss Marx [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Susanna Nicchiarelli
film profile
]
sees the youngest daughter of the famous thinker (Romola Garai) trying to fight for her beliefs, but also for her relationship with Edward Aveling (Patrick Kennedy) – all to the sound of blasting punk songs. We talked to its director, Susanna Nicchiarelli.

Cineuropa: Romola Garai said that when she was finding out about Eleanor, she was also finding out about you.
Susanna Nicchiarelli:
I was doing the same thing with her! It was a triangle: Eleanor Marx, her and me. We were both trying to understand what it was in her story that resonated with us, what it made us feel, what it communicated. By looking for that, we were communicating with each other.

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It made sense because also with Nico, 1988 [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Susanna Nicchiarelli
film profile
]
, you made a biopic that somehow felt very personal. Why do you like this format so much?
I like working on an existing person. There is the research, dealing with the past and the legacy of that past, the way we are imagining it. I like to play with the clichés of certain narratives, and then turn to real material, its roughness. You work on many different levels when you make a movie like that. Nico and Eleanor, they were very powerful women. There is, of course, a melancholic side to their lives, as both of them were self-destructive in a way. Eleanor committed suicide; Nico was on drugs all the time. But it’s interesting to see how these two things go together.

There is something very tragic about her being this fighter, and then behaving so differently in her private life. Many women, employed in powerful positions, still experience something like that.
I think it also happens to a lot of men. The way we are in public is not how we are in private. These two aspects fight against each other: the relationship between sense and sensibility, between the rational and the emotional. This is also why I chose to tell Eleanor’s story.

She was a very strong communicator, very charismatic. But by reading her letters, I don’t imagine her at home, yelling or having big rows with Edward. Their life went on normally, with a lot of things left unsaid. Maybe they did have fights, but we don’t know about them, so I let them happen off screen. When you are dealing with a real person, you owe a lot of respect to the lives you are telling. Some things you just have to leave on the side.

In the film, the only time she addresses her relationship issues is when she is quoting A Doll’s House. She uses somebody else’s words, not her own.
She believed in the liberating power of literature and theatre, and art in general. I think there was something very charming about Edward, about the way Patrick played him. He could be charming and then, at the same time, disturbing. She must have fallen in love because he was so lively, and maybe she fell in love with his superficiality? There is this scene when she compares him to a child.

He doesn’t worry.”
I took it from her letter. That’s a very powerful image: he doesn’t worry. For her, life was much heavier, more difficult.

Historical figures can be seen as so respectable sometimes. But you decided to use a not-so-respectable, punkish score. It feels like these songs are expressing what she can’t.
Maybe, but they also express the power of her ideas, which are very transgressive, even today. It’s always interesting to surprise the audience that way, to do things they aren’t quite used to. Maybe they get pulled out of the film and then they come back in, but it prompts critical thought. I believe you can play with emotions that way.

Even starting with the title, Miss Marx, do you think she tried to escape her name and her father?
Not at all; she was always very proud of him. She was a Marxist, and like all Marxists, she believed in these theories. But not because he was her father. What she wanted to do was to fight her own fights, and her father was limiting for her on the private side. He always asked her to take care of her sisters’ children, things like that. But of course, this film is about this: about the private and the public. In public, she was very strong and loved to affirm her ideas. But in private, a lot of things were limiting her.

When she makes a speech about women’s rights, her husband is yawning a little. Was it surprising for you that for so many of these people, supposed revolutionaries, they weren’t always so important?
Even children’s rights! What I found surprising was that the battles against child labour were mostly brought on by socialist women. For men, it wasn’t as urgent. Some people think that some battles are more important than others, whereas all of Eleanor’s battles were important in exactly the same way. Her motto was “Go ahead.” I think she never stopped going.

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