Eisenstein in Guanajuato

2015 biopic

Rating: 15/20

Plot: Director Eisenstein ventures to Mexico to make a film, experiences a sexually awakening, and meets some new dead friends.

Peter Greenaway, at this stage in his career, definitely lets it all hang out, doesn't he? This has the feel of a work made by an auteur who doesn't listen nearly enough to the voices in his head that tell him to calm down a bit. I'm not sure I expected a film this whimsical from Greenaway. I was surprised by the amount of penis though. But there's trippy split-screen flashes, strange added backgrounds, swirling computer effects from circa-1997, lines repeated rapidly for no discernible reason, goats and flies and gun shot sound effects, wildly spinning cameras, and even some infantile animation that make this visually unique and always a little surprising even when it all kind of gets in the way of the narrative or character development.

Of course, with any Greenaway movie, you're going to expect visual dazzle. Despite not having cinematographer Sacha Vierny around, this is still the feast for the eyes you'd expect from the maker of The Cook, His Wife, the Thief, and Her Lover or A Zed and Two Noughts. There are some great symmetrical shots, a lengthy sequence where the camera revolves around actors in a large room, shots through floors, a surreal sewer sequence, and a great long shot with slow panning through all these pillars. There's also a sex scene that is so sensually filmed and only slightly ruined by what has to be the worst pillow talk imaginable, the kind of pillow talk that references Aztecs and syphilis. Apparently, you can't have a movie that takes place in Mexico these days without showing loads of skulls, and there's a wild parade and post-parade sequence that involves the following of a maid and a blind and deaf bell-ringer whose symbolism I could never put my finger on. It's all beautiful even when you don't fully understand what the hell is happening or care about what anybody is talking about.

Michael Nyman isn't around either, but I really liked the music. There was an eclectic mix of intense orchestral stuff, ethnic music, and chirpy classical stuff, and it contributed to the overall rhythm of this. That rhythm is an odd rhythm, and it's driven by this virtuosic, R-trilling, and deliberately over-the-top performance by Elmer Back as Sergei Eisenstein. His hair might be the best on-screen coiffure since Eraserhead. Back's like an animated character, all waving arms and posturing. In a lot of his scenes, he's nearly dancing. And his words--and there are plenty of them, probably way too many--also dance. Lines like "I have a prick only fit for peeing" come out like strange poetry.

As you also might expect from Peter Greenaway, things get way too esoteric. I often watch his movies feeling like I'm not smart enough to be watching his films, and a movie with so much chunky symbolism and so many references to famous people and ideas, I felt like I got a little lost in it all.

I'd kind of stopped believing in Greenaway at this point in his career, but this movie makes me want to go back to watch some of his other recent movies. Especially if there's going to be this much penis!

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