In 1931, at the height of his artistic powers, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein travels to Mexico to shoot a new film to be titled 'Que Viva Mexico'. Freshly rejected by Hollywood and under increasing pressure to return to Stalinist Russia, Eisenstein arrives at the city of Guanajuato. Chaperoned by his guide, Palomino Canedo, he experiences the ties between Eros and Thanatos, sex and death, happy to create their effects in cinema, troubled to suffer them in life. With 'Eisenstein in Guanajuato', writer/director Peter Greenaway explores the mind of one of the greatest masters of cinema, a creative genius facing the desires and fears of love, sex and death through ten passionate days that helped shape the rest of his career.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato by Peter Greenaway tells a semi-fictional story of Sergei Eisenstein and his obsession with the extraordinary, the banal and the unreal. As Eisenstein (played by Elmer Bäck) travels through deserts, ancient architecture and otherworldly plains (or as he thinks), Greenaway excludes the art of his filmmaking and instead puts forth the circumstances that made those films possible to be made. Thus, Eisenstein in Guanajuato is largely a beautifully shot biographical essay that breezes past the art of filmmaking and it becomes a filmmaking art in and of itself.
Peter Greenaway’s obsession with love, sex and the mysteries of death have long fueled the director’s upswing career that took place in the 80s – where his films were perceived among audiences as postmodern masterpieces compared to his peers. But, since that era is long past gone, Greenaway has slowly transitioned to a more subjective approach that explores and deconstructs cinema as multi-disciplinary medium, a technical achievement and most of all: a moving art. Given his evolution of tendencies, Eisenstein in Guanajuato can almost be interpreted as return to form and merit both - a more traditional approach that yields conventional results and speaks truly to the art for in question.
Before everything, Eisenstein in Guanajuato plays like an homage to Sergei Eisenstein, his work and his persona. But the film is not only that: it’s also a commentary on social and economic issues that plague Mexico and the world, Eisenstein’s sexuality and the files on him the Soviet Union kept at the time as a guarantee to their own self-absorbed image.
Being already famous for making two cinema masterpieces, namely October and Potemkin – Eisenstein’s trip to Mexico was welcomed by him as a retreat in which he could satisfy his most primal needs, reassess his life and confront his inner demons. The material he shot there was largely left unused and unedited, but in contrast those were Eisenstein’s happier and most important days in his profoundly idiosyncratic life.
The film itself is visually stunning – an ode to perfection in filmmaking, if there is such label to be slapped onto a cinematic piece similar to this one. The camerawork provides slow and carefully thought-out shots that sometimes stay static - other times move with surgical precision and enable us, the viewers, to see every detail as envisioned by director Greenaway.
The references to Eisenstein’s movies are done with precision and with care, and every single one is accompanied with a shot from the original piece. Greenaway is also fond of manipulating the audience by showing a shot, then panning outward and revealing a totally different object that is being filmed in space. A neat trick nevertheless.
Finally, Eisenstein in Guanajuato is quote an interesting and daring feature, given you don’t have objections to explicitly nude and sexual scenes.