Wednesday 3 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (2) Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Peter Greenaway)

The Sydney Film Festival crammed a capacity 300 punters into Event #9 last night for Peter Greenaway's 'daring, sexually explicit and wildly funny' film about Sergei Eisenstein's visit to Mexico and his filming of what over the years has been titled Thunder Over Mexico, Time in the Sun and Que Viva Mexico! The adjectives employed in the festival program blurb were all quite inaccurate. Their author, like all the SFF program note writers, remains anonymous. In many ways its just another Greenaway movie with all of his tropes laid out. (A friend wrote recently "The last Peter Greenaway I watched was during the Sitges Fantasy Film Festival – that wonderful ode to the human spirit, The Baby of Macon. Swore I’d never watch another. So far, have made it 20 years Greenaway free and feel much better thank you.) He's been doing it for forty plus years and veterans will still recall their first experience, possibly the screening of A Walk Through H  at the Sydney Film Festival some time in the 70s.  

Much of this new film, perhaps a majority, takes place in a hugely palatial hotel, designed according to Greenaway's coldly feverish imagination, with a glass floor and  underfloor lighting. In the bedroom we discover that Eisenstein is somewhat of a sexual naif, everything notwithstanding. He has some sort of attachment to a woman called Vera back in Moscow whom he rings at various times, including once while taking a shower - a tribute perhaps to the robustness of the Mexican telephone service of the day, or sheer fantasy. But otherwise he seems not to have had any particularly sexual action and certainly no homosexual action. His initiation into this is quite candid, if not explicit. So, assuming that Greenaway has based it all on biographical research and his little asides on such matters as how syphilis was introduced to Europe are 'true' the film does have some educational value even as it labours along.

With the exception of the handsome Luis Alberti as the seducer Palomino, the peripheral characters however are not what you'd expect. Speaking their lines loudly, with overblown accents, none of them work. Then the film finishes in a similar fashion to Eisenstein's Mexican visa. It just sort of stops and we get a hurried voiceover which tells us that sodomites in the USSR could expect to get ten years in Siberia. This didn't happen to Eisenstein even though on his return he spent some time in a psychiatric institution. A couple of years after his return, (and the film doesn't mention this) he married Vera Atasheva.

Finally there are elements that require notation. First, Greenaway gives us several close-ups of Eisenstein's penis. Though a Jew, he is not circumcised. What are we to make of this? Second, about an hour into the film, the male part of a middle-aged couple sitting behind us who prior to the film had been running through the Michael Haneke films each had seen, delivered a ferocious sneeze which, from a very close distance, sprayed a monumental amount of fluid all over the back of my neck. Very disconcerting indeed in these Ebola ridden days.


  1. I believe the woman who gives the sailors a chicken in POTEMKIN was the then Mrs. Eisenstein.

    1. Mmm. We'll have to hire a fact checker. Another correspondent advises, in relation to circumcision, that Eisenstein was brought up in an assimilated, quasi-converted household, and doesn't think they were practicing Jews.


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