By Sascha Krieger
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (Competition / Netherlands, Mexico, Finland, Belgium / Director: Peter Greenaway)
In 1931, the famed Soviet film director Sergei Eisenstein arrived in Mexico to make a film that never saw the light of day. Peter Greenaway has taken Eisenstein’s adventure as the foundation for a visually stunning reflection of art, death, sex and life, a cinematographic whirlwind with a lost and troubled soul beset from all sides at its centre. Greenaway opens in black and white, has it battle with lush and bright colors which eventually win the day. He uses split screens, distorted imagery, surreal visuals, montages of various kinds, long often circular tracking shots in a river of endless creativity that never escapes fear. His Eisenstein (brilliantly played by Elmer Bäck) is chased by his own fears and insecurities as well as by the expectations of the world and a repressive system. In the midst pof all of this, outrageousness is his only weapon. We never see him at work but don’t have to: all his life is art, an outlet for things he – Jew, homosexual, communist – isn’t allowed to say or do, a form, perhaps the most effective form of protest. But even Eisenstein cannot escape the fearful pull of reality: his most life-changing event in the film is therefore depicted in strong, almost vulgar realism. Peter Greenaway celebrates this artist of life by quoting him extensively, elevating his subject to painting and humbling it to caricature. Eisenstein in Guajanuato is an astonishing visual poem with sharp humor, playful creativity and imagination and more warmth than one could ever expect from a director who so often takes delight in making opaque, hardly accessible films. This one is accessible on so many levels without sacrificing complexity and a filmic language far above words. Maybe, in this no-biopic (one of several at this year’s Berlinale) of a familiar soul, Peter Greenaway has finally found his subject and a fitting complement to his conjuror-artist Prospero. We might be seeing his opus magnum here.