Eisenstein in Guanajuato
The central themes of Eros and Thanatos in Peter Greenaway’s new biopic of Russian master cinematographer Sergei Eisenstein, which premiered this week at the Berlin Film Festival, are rather appropriate. The British director is determined to give new life to an art form that he maintains is stagnated and unoriginal, whilst perhaps simultaneously compromising his popularity in Russia.
Greenaway has taken Eisenstein’s jaunt to Mexico in the early 1930s as the basis for his depiction of the director, showing the Russian’s discovery of – amongst other things – showers and homosexuality. It is the latter which may ruffle feathers in Russia, where Eisenstein still sits as a proud national icon, since the central scene of the film sees the titular character, depicted by Finnish actor Elmer Bäck, lose his 33-year-old virginity to his handsome Mexican chaperone, played by Luis Alberti.
The rather barefaced presentation of Eisenstein’s sexual awakening is juxtaposed with Mexican culture’s preoccupation with the concept of death, via visually memorable Day of the Dead celebrations. Unfolding amongst remarkable scenery, it makes for a rather exhilarating picture that – as Greenaway insists – deals with what is at the core of the very medium that Eisenstein helped to make an art form; sex, death and outstanding imagery.
There is clearly a side to Greenaway that is eager to have fun with the possibilities of cinema. Having essentially dismissed the value of 3D, here he uses split screens, clips in black-and-white, shots of rooms from beneath glass, and spectacular sets to communicate with the audience in a more effective manner than would be achieved by dimensional gimmicks.
These “ten days that shook Eisenstein” – sitting between the Russian’s creation of Battleship Potemkin and October – seem to have left a deep imprint on the director’s vision of the world and Greenaway brings it to life in an entertaining and characteristic feature. Through the film may struggle to attract much attention away from the festival or art house circuits, it will hopefully be a film to help swell Greenaway’s now dwindling audience.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato does not yet have a UK release date.
Read more of our reviews and interviews from the festival here.
For further information about Berlin Film Festival 2015 visit here.