Filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein was an innovative genius whose legacy is timeless. Like most great minds, Eisenstein was a troubled soul and although he was married to a woman there was speculation about his sexuality. In Eisenstein in Guanajuato, director Peter Greenaway presents a strong, albeit not entirely factual, account of the Russian filmmaker’s trip to Mexico and how it altered his life and art.
Greenaway soaks the film with vivid colours that contrast greatly with the black and white stills he peppers his scenes with. There is a cartoonish hue from Reinier van Brummelen’s cinematography that masks the screen and it beautifully highlights the whimsical nature of the plot. This is a lighthearted interpretation of a love story albeit one with many complications. Eisenstein is unsure of his own sexuality and although the man he loves is married with children, the purity of Eisenstein’s emotions pour forth with unapologetic abandon.
Elmer Back’s portrayal of Eisenstein is that of an eccentric man-child. He is brilliantly loud and captivating while exhibiting an insecurity which makes him vulnerable. It’s a sympathetic performance that allows us to heavily invest in his awakening. Luis Alberti is excellent as the seductive and charismatic Palomino Cañedo. His feelings for Eisenstein conflict with his married life yet Alberti’s turns in a likeable performance that fulfils the themes of the story.
The film benefits greatly from Elmer Leupen’s clever editing, a fitting tribute to Eisenstein himself. There is an orchestrated frenzy of avant-garde transitions to compliment the tracking camera. Greenaway seldom lets the camera settle however he knows when to allow the camera to linger, and pulls no punches with his graphic depictions of sex, challenging the comfortable threshold of the audience.
Eisenstein in Guanajuato drags a little towards the end and would have benefitted from the omission of a few scenes to help streamline the narrative. The finished product delivers a sweet arthouse rom-com that over indulges in its appetites.