Wednesday, February 3, 2016

EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO: It's the new Peter Greenaway and very sexual. 'Nuff said.

OK. So it's gorgeous (that pretty much goes without saying regarding most movies by Peter Greenaway). With EISENSTEIN IN GUANAJUATO, black-and-white cinematography moves into color; the screen splits, then splits again. Sometimes we see black-and-white and color simultaneously. And as happens with Greenaway now and again (remember The Pillow Book?), there are a number of shots featuring uncut cock (belonging here to famed film director Sergei Eisenstein -- or at least the actor who's playing him, Elmer Bäck).

I would say that Mr. Greenaway, shown at right, is up to his old tricks, but these are rather new tricks, and simply for that color, exquisite sets and locations, not to mention all of the full-frontal beauty, the movie is worth seeing. As an exploration into the life and desires of filmmaker Eisenstein, I do not know enough about the filmmaker to be certain. But maybe Sergei himself would fall in love with this movie. I certainly did.

I want to see it again, too -- with English subtitles included, because, even though the film is spoken mostly in English, the accents of its two stars (one Finnish, the other Mexican) are so strong that I suspect I missed enough of the dialog to need a second viewing. Visually, too, it's such a knockout that it warrants another look.

Historically, the movie tampers with the time that Eisenstein, having departed the United States for Mexico in 1931, where he hoped to make a film (he did indeed shoot more than two miles of film stock), but instead -- as shown here, at least -- gets more involved with his guide, Palomino Cañedo (played by the quietly commanding Mexican actor, Luis Alberti), who opens Eisenstein's heart, mind and ass to new worlds of pleasure and ideas.

In addition to its gorgeous location photography and interior sets, much of the movie takes place in and around a very large bed (above) that proves pivotal to a number of scenes. In the role of Eisenstein, Mr. Bäck seems a rather inspired choice. The actor, below, who looks a good like like his real-life counterpart, combines a kind of loopy, clownish behavior with a physicality and sexuality that prove oddly charismatic.

In the role of his guide, Señor Alberti (shown below, right), a man of small, thin stature who possesses very large penile/genital package, seems born to disrobe -- which he does several times in the course of the film.

Greenaway uses this character of "guide" in ways both obvious and symbolic, never more so than in the film's prize sex scene in which this man of clearly Indian ancestry tutors our filmmaker in the joys of sex, as well as the philosophy of the conquered and conqueror, planting a flag in a place where, up till now, I don't think we've seen it dwell.

For all its visual pleasures -- including a couple of dramatic and gorgeous sudden changes of perspective -- Eisenstein in Guamajuato is also full of history (the entourage of Upton Sinclair makes an appearance here), ideas and provocations.

The filmmaker seems to have taken what is known of Eisenstein's time in Mexico and embroidered this with extravagant visuals that perfectly underscore what is going on physically and emotionally: exploration, loneliness, discovery, transgression.

If we get much more into the mind and body of the filmmaker rather than the guide, that's fine, as Palomino's character exists mostly to bring forth the repressed -- sexually and politically -- side of Eisenstein. What the filmmaker needs, as his wife tells him in one of the several phone conversations, "Is a secretary, a nurse, and a bum wiper."

Intercut periodically are scenes from the filmmaker's greatest hits, as well as some sexual animation that stands in for what arthouse/mainstream audiences are not quite ready to view just yet.

All in all, this is one hell of a surprising, eye-opening, mind-expanding ride. And I can't help but wonder what its viewers will think the next time they see one of Eisenstein's classics?

From Strand Releasing and running 105 minutes, the movie opens this Friday in New York (at the Angelika Film Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Royal and Playhouse 7). In the weeks to come, it will hit theaters nationwide on a limited basis. Click here, and then click on "Screenings"  to see all currently scheduled playdates.

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