Directed by Peter Greenaway
Country: Mexico / Netherlands / others
The British independent filmmaker, Peter Greenaway, author of a sui generis work whose imagination, mordant humor, and individuality are its strongest aspects, doesn’t make it easy for us in his new artistic creation, a half-baked biographical drama about the Russian filmmaker, Sergei Eisenstein. The latter, here played by the Finnish actor, Elmer Bäck, started his career by gaining a fantastic reputation worldwide with his revolutionary first movies: “Strike”, “Battleship Potemkin”, and “October” a.k.a. “Ten Days That Shook the World”.
The visionary Greenaway, faithful to his undomesticated scenic compositions, covers the period since the day Eisenstein arrived in Mexico in 1931 to make a privately funded film, until his final departure for the Stalinist Russia, mirthless and snotty, after a prolonged stay packed with intense personal experiences. Prior to his Hollywood dismissal, Eisenstein was feeling lonely and homesick, deciding to continue his career in Mexico where their artist friends, Frida Khalo and Diego Rivera, were waiting for him. He was so amazed by the country that he shot nearly 250.000 linear feet of film (approximately 50 hours) for his new movie, which had to be stopped by the dissatisfied production company, after growing out of money and patience with the ineptitude of the filmmaker in giving it a coherent direction.
Mr. Greenaway points the stirring camera toward the homosexual relationship between Eisenstein and his Guanajuato-guide, Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti), a married man and father of two, who becomes the reason for the extended permanence of the filmmaker in the country. Regardless of his new companion, with whom he likes to have long discussions on sex and death, Eisenstein calls Russia, to speak to his wife, Pera Atasheva, whenever bored or in trouble.
Often excessively exhibitionist and deliberately trying to extract eccentricities from every scene, “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” feels theatrically awkward, characterizing its protagonist in a pathetic, frivolous way. Intended to be a rollicking piece of entertainment and also a condensed lesson on art, this balmy piece of fantasy makes reference to numerous directors, poets, writers, architects, thinkers, and a variety of other personalities of the art world.
Our eyes are pelted with sumptuous images, digitally manipulated to form calculated misrepresentations. The screen is occasionally divided into three parts, and once in a while, there are brief insertions of old movie fragments. The problem is that the narrative doesn’t level with the visual exposure. Instead of a veritable human being, our central figure seems more like a clown who even considers himself funny whenever out of clothes.
The favorable spells that are usually drawn from Mr. Greenaway’s unique style couldn’t be seen this time, unable to survive to a compulsive bawdiness, whimsical shoeshines, and wobbly conducts. Anyway, as a sort of consolation, ‘Que Viva Mexico!’ will be forever in the minds of the true cinephiles.