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Eisenstein in Guanajuato

1/10

Stars: Elmer Bäck, Luis Alberti, Maya Zapata, José Montini, Cristina Velasco Lozano, Rasmus Slätis, Jakob Öhrman, Sara Juárez

Director: Peter Greenaway

Legendary Russian director Sergei Eisenstein rightfully earned his status as a genuine cinema giant (and not simply an auteur, as is all-too-fashionable and ludicrously overused nowadays) with three classic films – Strike (1924), The Battleship Potemkin (1925) and 1927’s October Ten Days that Shook the World).

And, now, in this truly dismal drama, writer and director Peter Greenaway offers us his lewd, ludicrous and uniquely unpleasant version of what happened in Mexico when Eisenstein after, having been invited to Hollywood, and signally failing to get a movie off the ground, he travelled to Mexico to make the privately funded (by American pro-Soviet sympathisers headed by writer Upton Sinclair)(em> Qui Viva Mexico…

Eisenstein died in 1948, and, although obviously he never knew it, was truly fortunate to miss this dreadful misfire.

Here, rottenly written as someone with more than a passing resemblance (visually and dramatically) to Curly from The Three Stooges and played to the hilt and far, far beyond it by Finnish actor Elmer Bäck, Eisenstein initially likes Mexico and admiringly tells his Mexican guide Luis Alberti “You had a successful revolution five years before we did”.

In fairness I should point out that Greenaway was decent enough to allow Back to say at one stage, “I am a caricature” even if the line is a patently silly understatement since it doesn’t take too long for Eisenstein to be shown losing his virginity at the age of 33 to Alberti in a long, grotesque and near porn-level gay sex sequence.

Mind you, the director’s unabashed delight in nudity should come as no surprise from the filmmaker who way back in 1996’s The Pillow Box offered moviegoers Ewan McGregor naked time and time again.

So, with a screenplay that so cheerfully denigrates its subject, what do we get?

Greenaway’s undoubted technical talents offer us superb split screen sequences, some stunning cinematography (Reiner van Brummelen) and, in summary, a unique slice of cheesy filmmaking.

Unfortunately, the slice is essentially rancid.

Eisenstein – and cinemagoers too – deserver a lot better.

And if you wonder, like me, just how such a misfire made it to the screen, it’s credited to eight producers and co-producers.

Cynically I might suggest then that It’s just feasible that Eisenstein in Guanajuato will have garnered rather more producers than satisfied paying filmgoers.

Alan Frank

Netherlands/Belgium/Finland/Mexico/France 2015. UK Distributor: Axiom. Colour.
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 18.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 3, Violence/Horror 3, Drugs 2, Swearing 3.

Review date: 15 Apr 2016