Eisenstein in Guanajuato (18) | Home Ents Review

Dir. Peter Greenaway, Netherlands/Mexico, 2015, 101mins, in English

Cast: Elmer Bäck, Luis Alberti, Maya Zapata, Lisa Owen, Stelio Savant

Fun and frothy and lovely to look at – here’s the perfect way to kickstart your centenary celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Eisenstein was one of the two pioneers of montage – a usually rapid editing style which places images in collision with each other. His 1920s films Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October were and remain incredibly influential. The films’ awesome reputations have somewhat overshadowed their creator – it’s hard not to assume that Eisenstein was a hyperactive but slightly over-earnest man.

Enter Peter Greenaway, who transforms Eisenstein into a joker or clown hero, thanks largely to the very physical performance by Elmer Bäck. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised; Eisenstein shook hands with Mickey Mouse during a brief stay in Hollywood, after all.

The film is a fictional account of the great Soviet film maker’s stay in Mexico in 1930. The film only tangentially explores the real-life abandoned film project Que Viva Mexico!. Instead, it focuses on the blossoming of Eisenstein’s character and sexuality in the heat and passion of urbane Mexican culture.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato is exceptionally lively, with little of the monolithic darkness that lives in the shadows of most Greenaway films – and this despite the fact that there is quite a lot of talk about death, almost as much as there is about sex. One lovely sequence manages to make death look like flowers, when the city’s famous embalmed corpses are filmed as light arcs over them.

This is a characteristically garrulous film from Greenaway, but for once the talk is pretty straightforward. The words gush out and the images do too – they are generous and operatic, hyperactive and edited fast.

The film luxuriates in the possibilities opened up by Eisenstein’s ideas about montage – as well as developing them through digital technologies. Greenaway’s films are usually a series of over-ripe tableaux; here we get montage flurries, fast cuts mid-shot to close-up and triple screen splits mixed in with the signature long shots.

There’s one long shot that will leave you rewinding to check what you just saw: a circling track through a grand hotel and out onto its portico, with the perspective changing by 45 or 90 degrees each time the camera passes behind a column.

Despite all the digital flummery, there’s also a heartfelt sense of evoked, real-world locations here – again that’s unusual for Greenaway and adds an extra sense of lightness to proceedings.

Four stars

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Eisenstein in Guanajuato is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 23 January.

Colin Dibben

Author: Colin Dibben

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