Eisenstein in Guanajuato

DIRECTOR: Peter Greenaway

Bay Area Premiere

In his dazzling and giddy glitter-bomb of a film, the always inventive British-born director Peter Greenaway (The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover; The Draughtsman’s Contract) imagines what might have happened to the great Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein during a pivotal period of artistic and sexual awakening while sojourning in Mexico in 1931 to shoot a film he nearly couldn’t finish.

Using gleeful “watch me do this!” feats of camera movement, set design, and montage that rival the Soviet master himself, Greenaway stages a kind of “ten days that shook Sergei Eisenstein”: the frenetic, frizzy-haired Russian director (Finnish actor Elmer Bäck in a bravura comic performance) finds himself captivated by his studly Mexican guide Palomino Cañedo (suave Luis Alberti), who initiates the brooding Russian into unknown pleasures of the body and soul, opening him (in every way) to profound discoveries.

The bare outlines of Eisenstein’s actual time in Mexico are well known: hounded by Stalinist minders at home and snubbed by Hollywood, Eisenstein signed a contract with influential American leftists, including the journalist Upton Sinclair, to make an ethnographic film called ¡Que Viva México!, prompting him to record miles of footage exploring daily life, Day of the Dead rituals, and a sensual Latin world vastly different from the filmmaker’s Slavic miserabilism. (He insisted that repressing his sexual urges contributed to his artistic brilliance.) His American backers tried to shut the film down.

Greenaway pounces on this scenario with customary vim and virtuosity—using split screens, dizzying 360-degree tracking shots, filming from below through translucent alabaster floors—as he conjures up a quixotic genius hell-bent on conquering mortality through newfound pleasure. In this case, the pleasure is all ours.

— Peter L. Stein

AT&T Audience Award Text Voting Code: F110

Co-presented by:
California Film Institute
Mostly British Film Festival

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