Eisenstein in Guanajuato full movie review - Greenaway...So underrated!
Elmer Back plays Eisenstein (where did they find this guy?). Back's performance is magnetic and mesmerizing, one of my favorites of the year.
Back brings a wonderful sense of humor to the film and is an outstanding physical actor/comedian. His slight facial gestures and mannerisms bring a full depth of dimension to his portrayal of Sergei Eisenstein. His frenetic, manic energy with a resting heart rate of about 150 beats per minute is simply a wonder to watch and in perfect step with the film's visual explosiveness. Biopics (by the way this is a VERY loose biopic) are exceptionally easy to make bad, pretty easy to make mediocre, hard as s**t to make good and nearly impossible to make unique. So it comes as no surprise that it a truly formula shattering biopic covering one of the most wildly innovative, complex and enigmatic geniuses in the history of cinema (or in the world).
It's the thirties and Soviet film pioneer and Stalinists propagandists Sergei Eisenstein has been shunned by Hollywood for his obvious Red connections and on taking advice by friends such as Charlie Chaplin has gone to Mexico to make his next great "Masterpiece!" Which is more than a struggle, for as the audience slowly finds out, largely in manic diatribes spouted by Eisenstein himself, the legendary auteur is in a highly confused and vulnerable state in his life: financially, politically, sexually, philosophically and artistically. The set pieces in Eisenstein explode in glorious color imposed in fine tuned geometric framing; the depth of staging creates a world within a world, making the sets in Guanajuato a place that existed yet never quite existed. Greenaway in homage to Eisenstein uses many of his techniques montage editing, curt shots, quick scenes that suddenly cut in about three seconds just as Eisenstein, Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Dziga Vertov or other similar montage formalists such as Abel Gance would have. The difference in Greenaway's adoption and mixing of his own techniques with those classic reverence styles is that he maintains continuity in style yet never grows too predictable with his camera and never falls into the deathtrap that is nauseating Tarantino-esque pastiche. Greenaway's use of wide-angle lenses and wonderful tracking dolly shots (reminiscent of Max Ophuls) to follow the frenzied, perpetually moving Eisenstein to-and-fro is amazing and never misses a beat. At certain points Greenaway splits the screen using classic clips of Eisenstein's films and photographs of people that are being referenced as Eisenstein speaks, putting on full display the classic stylings of classic art-cinema, all the while maintaining an air of freshness.
Back's performance can become much too some, but in all of Eisenstein's rambling monologues one becomes aware of this man's inner feelings, his emotions that swing from one pole to the next, his true feelings about the Soviet Bear, his fears, his eccentricities, his hang-ups, his diva-bility, as well as his true genius. While the story may seem to remain a bit too vague for some, the devil is in the details. Greenaway is not the man that is going to do a traditional deep-sea delving into the life a character. In Eisenstein Greenaway methodically externalizes the director's philosophies on life and art (and the machinations behind art). We learn about Eisenstein through simple, seemingly unimportant instances (in terms of the man's work), like how he falls for his Mexican chaperone Palomino (Luis Alberti), who eventually anally deflowers Eisenstein in a very funny, touching, matter of fact scene that I assume made many audience members cringe uncomfortably. There are also a few striking scenes with skeletons and a skull; Eisenstein becoming truly enamored with all of this imagery that's semiotics recall the mystery and exotic pageantry of "The Day of the Dead." The Day of the Dead?Eisenstein was very much interested in how the mind processed associations and I couldn't help but to think of the hopeless drunk Albert Finney played in John Huston's Mexico-set film Under the Volcano, where both Eisenstein and Finney's characters mirror each other in a particular way. Both are confused, wasting their talents, lost, lost in an existential sense and lost in a foreign place. Eisenstein in Guanajuato is crucially underrated. For fans of Eisenstein it is a must see and is still enjoyable for fans of film even if unaware of the great Sergei Eisenstein and early cinematic forms, though will certainly miss a lot.