Sergei Eisenstein isn’t a name familiar to many now, but he was responsible for not only creating arguably the greatest Russian cinema of the mid-to-late 1920 but also as a pioneering film-maker. Battleship Potemkin is probably his best-known work, but Strike and October were both highly influential. After increasing criticism regarding his commitment to structure and form in his native USSR, and an unsuccessful spell in America, he wound up heading to Mexico. Peter Greenaway focuses on this period in Eisenstein in Guanajuato.
After securing funding from writer Upton Sinclair and his wife Mary Craig Sinclair (Lisa Owen), Eisenstein (Elmer Bäck) travels to Mexico to film Que Viva Mexico!. Feted upon arrival, he’s entranced by the culture, vivid colours and the way Mexicans celebrate death. Eisenstein, a virgin, starts a sexual odyssey with his guide Palomino (Luis Alberti). Distracted, he loses interest in the film, but the wolves are drawing in.
Greenaway, whose recent narrative films have included biopics about 16th Century Dutch painter Hendrik Goltzius and Rembrandt, returns to familiar territory. As with much of his work, eroticism and sex are not far from his thoughts. Eisenstein in Guanajuato is beautifully made. Greenaway plays with form and structure; dropping many film references. It’s lavish, vibrant and exquisitely made; blending in old pictures with the actors on screen. Despite extensive research on the director’s part, it’s debatable how accurate it is though.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato is released on Blu-ray and DVD by Axiom Films on Monday.