Eisenstein In Guanajuato (2015)

PETER GREENAWAY

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

////, 2015. , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Peter Greenaway. Cinematography by , . Produced by , , , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

By 1930, Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, Strike and October were highly influential works that were immediately influencing other directors around the world, resulting in his visiting Hollywood and coming very close to signing a studio contract before controversy flared up and he was sent packing. An interference by novelist and fan Upton Sinclair extended Eisenstein’s voyage in the Americas longer, as Sinclair, his wife Mary and other interested parties raised money to send the director to Mexico to film a lengthy, ambitious project called Que Viva Mexico, and that is where Peter Greenaway’s tribute to the Russian auteur begins. Don’t think, though, that the man who made such fascinating, anti-narrative tableaux in the past is going to suddenly give you a straightforward biopic, as that is not what this film has to offer, and, for fans or anyone still alive who might have known Eisenstein, the fact that it plays well beyond any confirmed biographical fact is also something one must immediately make their peace with.

We watch as Eisenstein (Finnish actor ) arrives in Guanajato, strikes up a friendship with his guide Palomino () that turns into a tempestuous sexual affair, and frustrates his investors with his slow, overdue project that bears little fruit (not that we even see him trying a camera on for size, ever, as in this film he barely leaves his hotel room). The purpose of this project doesn’t appear to be a treatise on the creation of art, the challenges of creativity or the passion/soul of an artist, this film is, like all of Greenaway’s efforts, a work of art itself, and as such will be a familiar experience for his fans, with scenes arranged on self-consciously theatrical sets (with billowing curtains) and dramatic, expressionist lighting everywhere. It’s a fitting tribute to a man that, as is quoted in the film, was obsessed with the idea of film as a pure art (he said Walt Disney was the only true filmmaker because he made his films in their entirety), but, while those of us who have already tapped into Greenaway’s vibe can excuse his wholly anti-biographical use of a real-life character (as well as a fanciful one, knowledge of Eisenstein’s sexuality appears to be mostly sourced in apocryphal rumours), there’s no denying that this dazzling film has no soul.

Part of the problem lies with the casting of Beck, who is made to look like the filmmaker (shock mop of hair and all) but who lacks the gleam of mischief that we detect when we see photos of the real man; Beck’s performance is all jerky movements and clowning faces, forget wanting to see him struggle with his soul, we never even see him struggle to place himself within the complexity of Greenaway’s many carefully composed images. Alberti fares much better, oozing a confident sexuality that is intoxicating and never for a moment losing his balance in a role that could easily have turned into exploitative window dressing.

Berlin Film Festival: In Competition

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