Eisenstein In Guanajuato


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Eisenstein In Guanajuato
"Eisenstein is embodied by the fabulous Elmer Bäck, who gallops at the role in the way Liberace might have plunged into a haberdashers."

Less a straightforward biopic than a flamboyant plunge into a specific moment in Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein's life, Peter Greenaway's film is a florid and enjoyable fantasy that boils down to two of his favourite subjects - sex and death - and which doesn't let up for a minute, demanding you embrace its excessiveness.

Set in the early 1930s, it focuses on the "10 days that shook Eisenstein" - a sojourn he took to Mexico to shoot his (unfinished) Que Viva Mexico! Eisenstein is embodied by the fabulous Elmer Bäck, who gallops at the role in the way Liberace might have plunged into a haberdashers. He plays him as a slightly doughy wall of energy, blasting through everything in his path, perhaps as a way of deflecting his vulnerabilities and self-doubt. Greenaway brings together the real and the imagined right from the start, when the screen splits into a tryptic of fragments depicting everything from the current car journey Eisenstein is making to clips of his films. That all these disparate elements are brought together in a maelstrom assault seems fitting, given that Greenaway wants us to forget the narraitve detail in favour of experiencing the headrush of a man on the verge of sexual awakening and career disintegration.

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Greenaway has always been able to perform a neat sleight of hand that sees him be playful in terms of ideas at the same time as rigorously formal in terms of the look of his films and here it is Eisenstein's opulent boudoir that takes frequently centre stage. It has an elegant symmetry - the director doesn't care a jot for continuity if he needs to move the bed a bit from time to time to achieve the look he wants - and a glass underlit floor that is also put to good use by cinematographer Reinier van Brummelen, whether shot from above or below.

This is where the thrust - and plenty of thrusting - of the story takes place, as Eisenstein, at the not-so-tender age of 33, loses his virginity, thanks to his guide to the country, Palomino (Luis Alberti), who proves more than happy to give him a crash course in anal sex despite being married. Everything about this initial first encounter has the freshness of the moment, with Greenaway revellling in the naked abandon, mixing humour and desire with just the right dose of self-consciousness. It is this sort of undercurrent which makes the film more than simply a farce. Beneath the hurly-burly, there is still an element of sadness that the sudden unexpected freedoms for Eisenstein are soon likely to be curtailed by a return to Mother Russia.

Reviewed on: 22 Feb 2016
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The 10 days that shook Eisenstein.
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Director: Peter Greenaway

Writer: Peter Greenaway

Starring: Stelio Savante, Lisa Owen, Maya Zapata, Elmer Bäck, Luis Alberti, Jakob Öhrman, Rasmus Slätis, Raino Ranta

Year: 2015

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Mexico, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, France


BIFF 2015
Glasgow 2016

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