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.


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