Monday, December 21, 2015

Eisenstein in Guanajuato

The Oscars be damned! Eisenstein in Guanajuato, the latest masterpiece from British master Peter Greenway is the best picture of the year 2015. At least, it should be. In Greenway’s astute hands a drab, award-baiting subject (after all, we are talking about the Russian master of silent cinema, his repressed homosexuality, and those bloody communists!) becomes a carnival of sex. It’s irreverent, chatty and shameless, with full of full frontal.

This movie will not play in a theatre near you!


Set in Mexico during the “10 days that shook” Russia’s greatest silent filmmaker, “Eisenstein in Guanajuato” marks Peter Greenaway’s raucous attempt to capture his all-time cinema idol at his moment of greatest personal discovery and deepest professional frustration — which, the film takes great delight in suggesting, coincided with the loss of his virginity, at age 33, so far from his (still) homophobic homeland. Determined to breathe fresh life into a medium he insists has scarcely evolved in the 90 years since Sergei Eisenstein made “Strike,” Greenaway has wrought an outrageously unconventional and deliriously profane biopic that could take decades to be duly appreciated.

Unspooling like some sort of blasphemous passion play, the film depicts Eisenstein’s symbolic death and subsequent resurrection via an act of gay sex. “Somebody has opened the door to a wet and weepy dirty hurricane,” the Russian gushes not long after his studly Mexican guide, Palomino Canedo (Luis Alberti), pours olive oil down his backside and forcefully mounts him. It’s a scene that makes “Last Tango in Paris” seem tame by comparison, crowned by the sight of Canedo planting a tiny Soviet flag in Eisenstein’s bleeding orifice.

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Eisenstein in Guanajuato is far from a conventional biopic. It hones in on the director’s time abroad working on his eventually abandoned project about the Mexican revolution ¡Que viva México!, which had been backed by left-wing American benefactor Upton Sinclair and his wife after Eisenstein struggled to get a film off the ground in Hollywood.

Eisenstein’s relationship with the Sinclairs broke down amid Stalin’s suspicions that the director had deserted the USSR – and his distraction by more carnal pursuits.

But Greenaway makes production tensions mere background to the very personal tumult of Eisenstein’s intense affair with his guide Palomino Cañedo, to whom he lost his virginity at the age of 33. This is framed as nothing less than a personal revolution – the “ten days that shook Sergei Eisenstein”, as Greenaway mischievously refers to them in a play on the director’s commemoration of the Russian Revolution, October (Ten Days that Shook the World).

“I always felt Eisenstein’s first three films were very different from the last three – why? I think the answer to that is, when you go abroad, you become a different person,” said Greenaway, who believes the personal transformation Eisenstein underwent in Mexico turned him from the focus on mass action of Battleship Potemkin, Strike! and October to a greater concern with the individual, as evidenced in Alexander Nevsky and the two-part Ivan the Terrible.

“He was away from paranoia, from Stalinist persecution and really strange political eccentricities, and he was faced with a brand new and different society. There’s a lot of evidence he freed up, and became much more empathetic to notions of the human condition.”

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Peter Greenaway, CBE (born 5 April 1942) is a British film director. His films are noted for the distinct influence of Renaissance and Baroque painting, and Flemish painting in particular. Common traits in his film are the scenic composition and illumination and the contrasts of costume and nudity, nature and architecture, furniture and people, sexual pleasure and painful death.

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