Writer/Director: Peter Greenaway
Cast: Elmer Bäck, Luis Alberti, Maya Zapata, Lisa Owen, Stelio Savante,
105min Comedy Drama
Peter Greenaway proudly presents this fast-talking, flashy and visually overloaded outing that aims to shed a light on Sergei Eisenstein’s transformative trip to Mexico in the early 1930s.
Having achieved success with STRIKE, BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN and OCTOBER (TEN DAYS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD) by his late twenties, Eisenstein arrived in Hollywood 1930 on the invitation of Paramount Pictures. But movie plans fall through and he travels down to Mexico to meet the writer Upton Sinclair and make a film with him and his wife Mary Craig Kimbrough, Que Viva Mexico. It was never made.
The tone is unapologetically provocative with beefy Finnish-born actor Elmer Bäck playing Eisenstein as a bumptiously theatrical, overgrown baby with flyaway hair and a propensity to walking around his hotel room in the nude talking to his penis to the overbearing tones of Dance of the Knights from Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet. This is possibly due to the sweltering heat and culture shock brought on by discovering this new and uninhibited exotic playground: there’s even running water in the bathroom. Away from the strictures of Stalinism, Sex (Eros) and Death (Thanatos) take over his thoughts and coalesce with the steamy temperatures to have a transformative effect on Eisenstein’s libido of that of his local guide a well-endowed and sultry, Palomino Cañedo (Luis Alberti), who indulge in ultra-marital anal sex during their afternoon Siesta giving the Russian director two new experiences to take home. This affair was to have a dramatic effect on his creativity when he returned to Russia, and Greenaway cleverly evokes this transformation of his style from one of conceptual filmmaking to a fascination with more human concerns. His visit coincides with Mexico’s Day of the Dead (images of the Museum of the Dead here are accompanied to a playful Mexican score in contrast to those of Herzog’s sinister opening sequences of NOSFERATU.
The film is beautifully-crafted as one would expect with visuals morphing from the vibrant colours of the Mexico to the stylish bedroom interiors and black and white, Greenaway’s trademark montages are evident as are triptych split screens showing different timings of events and imaginative set-designs by Hector Iruegas (Post Tenebras Lux). There are exquisitely-tailored costumes for the men and soigné attire for the women courtesy of Brenda Gomez. Those expecting to learn anything about Eisenstein or indeed the films themselves or even Mr and Mrs Sinclair will be disappointed as this is largely a vanity piece for Greenaway to showcase his considerable filmmaking talents (and possibly even align them to those of Eisenstein); Elmer Leupen’s impressive editing skills and Reinier van Brummelen expertise with his lenses. Despite all this cleverness – THE DRAUGHTSMAN’S CONTRACT still remains his best film MT.
REVIEWED AT BERLINALE 2015 IN THE COMPETITION LINE-UP | NOW ON BLURAY