Eisenstein in Guanajuato
Director: Peter Greenaway
Year of release: 2016
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
An ambitious hodgepodge of form and content, Peter Greenaway’s Eisenstein in Guanajuato follows the celebrated Russian silent filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein as he travels to Mexico during the early 1930s to work on a film of which he shot some 250 miles of footage that was never used. As played by energetic Finnish actor Elmer Back, Eisenstein emerges as a theatrical caricature obsessed with this new country and whose closeted homosexuality is unleashed once he meets his Mexican guide, Palomino Canedo (Luis Alberti). Greenaway’s attention to this odd footnote in Eisenstein’s career—post Battleship Potemkin and after years of struggling to get other projects off the ground in Hollywood—allows the 72 year-old to riff on notions of sexuality, art, and bombastic artificiality. The results are tonally wild and often undisciplined; with split screens, visual panels, transitions from black and white to color photography, archival footage, still photographs, and elaborate tracking shots all making way for a macabre farce in which visual trickery and verbose monologues often take the place of relatable human behavior. Even though Greenaway’s semi-experimental dramedy is short on realistic character insights, it’s focus on Eisenstein’s widely debated homosexuality, and his ego-driven mania in the face of dwindling funds from Hollywood studios, does allow the film to take on a heightened feeling of stitched together moments. It may be a messy conception, but Eisenstein in Guanajuato honors it’s subject by not drowning in dull biopic conventions and marching to the idiosyncratic beat of it’s own drum.