A visual extravaganza of the Russian director’s sexual awakening in Mexico, Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein In Guanajuato is a shameless return to form.
Russian Revolutionby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Sergei Eisenstein’s 1931 sojourn in Mexico to film ¡Que Viva Mexico!, Eisenstein In Guanajuato is a return to form for Peter Greenaway. Largely taking place in an ornate hotel room in Guanajuato with a glass floor lit from below, it has an unmistakable Greenaway feel. And referencing Eisenstein (played here by a larger than life Elmer Bäck) in photographs (as well as Diego Riviera, Frida Kahlo, Upton Sinclair, Lenin, Pudovkin, Chaplin – anyone who was anyone really, except Stalin) and lunettes smashing (à la Battleship Potemkin), it’s a playful romp through Eisenstein’s Mexican experience. The film begins in black and white, draining into colour as the Mexican landscape is transformed onto celluloid in Eisenstein’s mind, even though we never see a film set or the great director at work. Instead we’re treated to an enjoyably haphazard selection of anecdotes – from Eisenstein’s stash of arty male nudes confiscated by the authorities, to the bleeding child he nurses, injured in a landslide. For the most part however, it’s the story of Eisenstein’s sexual awakening, arriving in Mexico a virgin and leaving for Russia “debauched” – the Ten Days That Shook Eisenstein, as he’s initiated into sex and love by his handsome guide Cañedo (Luis Alberti). A riot of nudity, images and whirling cameras, Eisenstein In Guanajuato is a delicious, aesthetic experience. Where it falls down is in its love story – neither sketched out (even briefly) nor emotionally impactful, Greenaway relying on image alone to achieve his arc. But with such beautiful images, playful editing and a fresh collision of ideas, Eisenstein In Guanajuato proves that film directors of a bygone age can be remembered. And fondly.
Eisenstein In Guanajuato is now showing at the 65th Berlin Film Festival