Eisenstein in Guanajuato

I’ll be honest, I didn’t think I’d be blogging this year. Lots of stuff going on, not a lot of time, not a lot of spare energy, just a wee bit of stress… I didn’t need a repeat of the 2013 festival, where I loaded too many movies on my plate, burned out, and delivered the last one about three weeks late. I’d just go to the movies (how many? still TBD, TBH. Even as I write this I haven’t yet figured out my schedule), and maybe post short little snippets, like I used to before my blogging hit the big time.

But then, I saw Eisenstein in Guanajuato, the VQFF’s opening gala film. And soon enough, I felt a review welling up inside me, and it felt good.

So, Sergei Eisenstein: Soviet Russian film director, famous for (among others) Battleship Potemkin and October (a.k.a.: Ten Days That Shook The World). In late 1930 he embarked on a long trip to Mexico: financed by various Hollywood personalities, he was to make a movie of his own design and choice, but all the materials as well as the final product would belong to his backers. This film, directed by Peter Greenaway, tells the story of that Mexico trip, and the spell of love and death that Mexico cast on Eisenstein.

This is a crazy, weird trip of a movie, as zany and frantic as Eisenstein himself, filled with self-consciously artsy camera work, over-the-top profound discussions on love, sex, death, politics, colonialism, Soviet culture vs. Mexican culture vs. Hollywood culture, movie history, name-dropping every major Western film and cultural figure, from Charlie Chaplin to Upton Sinclair to George Bernard Shaw…

Oh, and there’s sex, too. Eisenstein is seduced by his (married) guide, Palomino—also a teacher of comparative religion—and they fall in love with each other. This is not just a superficial fling, but a serious relationship between intellectual equals who connect with each other on every level. It has to end, though. Eisenstein is eventually called back to Russia when his grand Mexican movie goes way over budget and his backers get pissy, but Palomino must stay with his family.

Visually, this film is absolutely amazing: stunning landscapes, loving eyefuls of Mexican architecture as well as Mexican life—those glass-entombed mummies, the creepy alleyway that Eisenstein explores near the beginning, and the creepy-fun Day of the Dead parade. More than that, though, this film is filled with techniques that harken back to old-school cinema: abrupt cuts to static close-ups, repeated three-way split screens, shots filmed in grainy old black-and-white… as well, more modern (probably) tricks with fisheye lenses and such. Now I’m kind of in the mood for some silent Soviet film! How much of this movie was genuine callbacks to Eisenstein’s œuvre, and how much was the director playing silly buggers? I am definitely curious.

My only complaint was that some of the dialog was hard to follow, what with the protagonists tending to talk a mile a minute with strong accents, but I didn’t really let it bother me. Their conversations were genuinely fascinating, and with those visuals you could never get bored. If I lost the thread of a scene, I could just pick it up again later.

All in all a great start to the festival! Beautiful, weird, zany, dramatic and intellectual—and best of all, it’s inspired me to blog again!