Eisenstein in Guanajuato: The director of Strike gets stroked
by Bénédicte Prot
- BERLIN 2015: Peter Greenaway tells us with a never-before-seen joyful exuberance about Eisenstein's visit to Mexico, thanks to two fantastic actors
Eisenstein in Guanajuato [+see also:
interview: Peter Greenaway
film profile], in competition at Berlin, is decisively the work of a Peter Greenaway at the top of his game, his most playful show of skill to date. To pay tribute to the man he defines as the "greatest filmmaker of all time", the creator of The Draughtman's Contract has chosen, without paradox, the tone of impertinence and the most vibrant wild humour, seeing as the plot unfolds in Mexico, where the great Sergei Eisenstein went, following a tour in America (from 1929 to 1931), in order to direct a movie that was never created, after which his career was put on hold until Alexander Nevski. The result of Greenaway's reverie about this adventure is a true delight, a delectable tale, a showcase of effrontery, that we grin at all throughout and in which we find, best represented, all of the Welsh director's wonderful pet topics: his taste for montages, lists and herbariums, his multiple references to literature, painting, music and film, his love of architecture, his penchant for the concepts of eros and thanatos (and thus for the raw physical representation of the human body) and his wonderful gift of rendering the most grotesque juxtapositions meaningful (like the one he makes in the title - you can't get more Greenawayesque than that. He chose it specifically because it's unpronounceable).
We arrive with great fanfare, with the dual chords of Prokofiev's "Montagues and Capulets", to the "customised" Roman Catholic country of Mexico, with its brightly coloured cemetries and its round-mouthed Carnival skeletons that look like strange inflatable dolls. Eisenstein (whom Finnish actor Elmer Bäck plays tremendously) is welcomed to Guanajuato with all the honours, including having at his side Palomino Cañedo (played with the same good nature as his associate by Mexican actor Luis Alberti), a very charming native comrade and guide who responds to the Russian artist's eccentricity. The latter, already chatty and over-excited upon arrival (his "spinning" mind is regularly highlighted by dizzying fast-motion shots and "name-dropping" sessions in which he cites all of the big names with whom he could shake hands throughout his journey, from James Joyce to Dos Passos and including Cocteau, Gertrude Stein and Flaherty), is on cloud nine when he discovers the joy of the shower. In the USSR, you can bathe yourself a thousand different ways, but nothing is as enjoyable as this cascade of hot water over his naked body, he explains to his flaccid member, which we see here for the first time in an extreme close-up.
Indeed, from that point on, this holy monster of film will be mainly naked and will spend a good deal of time living in the opulence of his vast bedroom, with Palomino. Greenaway has decided to imagine Eisenstein's tardy loss of virginity – because it's important to note that while the latter had already made, at 30 years of age, Strike, Battleship Potemkin and October: Ten Days That Shook the World, he had not yet set that part of his own physical life in motion. Let's take the matter into our own hands, seems to imply his handsome Mexican companion while discreetly pilfering a bottle of extra-virgin olive oil in a way that others would procure a stick of butter: thus he will offer the monumental Soviet artist his first tango in Guanajuato. The red-blooded scene that follows, placed slap bang in the middle of the film and introduced by the image of the golden liquid running down Sergei's hairy spine, is entirely illustrated from start to finish, while Palomino considers the old and new world without ceasing to grace the communist maestro's buttocks with his whipping. This initiation, which opens up a world of prospects for the epic filmmaker (whose newfound sexual agility results in some fantastic shots filmed from beneath the transparent tiles that comprise the floor of his decadent love nest), makes him turn a blind eye to his duties vis-à-vis his film producers, but it's better that he enjoy this experience, as his revolutionary country prohibits this kind of bold behaviour.
Greenaway, himself, is not lacking in audacity. He isn't in any way reluctant to rattle totems and taboos, and that's why Eisenstein in Guanajuato is exhilarating, as well as being a work of intoxicating virtuosity, because not everyone can manage to really pay tribute to such an idol by representing him with his ding-a-ling exposed for all to see, wearing a bright-yellow satin pyjama top.
International sales of Eisenstein in Guanajuato (co-produced by the Netherlands, Mexico, Finland and Belgium) are managed by Berlin-based company Films Boutique.
(Translated from French)