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Review: Explicit ‘Eisenstein in Guanajuato’ quickly loses steam despite actors’ boyish energy

Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s ill-fated production of “Que Viva Mexico!” as filtered through British filmmaker Peter Greenaway’s own heavily stylized, heavily satirical lens, serves as the brimming-with-possibility conceit behind “Eisenstein in Guanajuato.”

Arriving in Mexico in 1931 after being spurned by Hollywood, the white-suited Eisenstein, played with wild-haired, impish gusto by Elmer Bäck, finds more than his creative juices being rejuvenated when he embarks on a sexually explicit relationship with his tour guide/chaperone (Luis Alberti).

Projecting a considerable amount of conjecture upon a visual crazy quilt of Eisenstein’s film work and archival photographs and drawings, Greenaway, whose previous art house efforts include “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover” and “Pillow Book,” has certainly cooked up an audacious, sex-and-death-obsessed travelogue.

But while Finnish actor Bäck, whose boyish energy recalls Tom Hulce’s portrayal of a young Mozart in “Amadeus,” gives a daring and utterly vanity-free performance here, as does the studly Alberti, the heady effect proves fleeting.

Long before production of “Que Viva Mexico!” is shut down by investors, Greenaway’s boundary-pushing, breathlessly in-your-face approach begins to take its toll on viewer patience, resulting in Eisenstein not being the only one to ultimately lose interest in his bold Mexican odyssey.

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“Eisenstein in Guanajuato.” No MPAA rating. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes. Playing: Laemmle Royal, West L.A., Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena.


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