Greenaway's film on Sergei Eisenstein won't please Putin's Russia

Wed Feb 11, 2015 6:20pm EST
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By Stephen Brown

BERLIN (Reuters) - British director Peter Greenaway's explicit treatment of Sergei Eisenstein's homosexuality, in his new film about the maker of the Soviet-era masterpieces "Battleship Potemkin" and "October", may not please Russia's modern rulers.

In "Eisenstein in Guanajuato", which premiered at the Berlin Film Festival on Wednesday, the Russian -- played exuberantly by Finnish actor Elmer Bäck -- loses his virginity aged 33 with the help of his male Mexican guide and a bottle of olive oil.

Asked how this would go down in President Vladimir Putin's Russia, which outlaws what it calls homosexual propaganda, the always provocative Greenaway said he just wanted to portray "the ultimate father figure of world cinema" as a flesh-and-blood human being.

Eisenstein was married to a fellow filmmaker Pera Atasheva, but Greenaway said the Russian director's homosexuality was documented in his extensive archives and personal letters.

"Sex and death: the two non-negotiables," says Eisenstein in the film, where sensuality intermingles with the images of death from Mexican "Day of the Dead" celebrations.

It is Greenaway's own belief that "cinema is all about sex and death", as is evident in many of his art-house hits such as "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" of 1989.

"The fall-out in terms of what the Russians think was of no interest to me and still isn't," the 72-year-old director told Reuters in an interview, turning the tables to ask: "How is it that Russia has never made a good film about Eisenstein?"

Greenaway's take on the great director's life is set in 1931 and focuses on Eisenstein's stay in the picturesque city of Guanajuato and his affair with his handsome guide Palomino, played by Luis Alberti.   Continued...

Director Peter Greenaway poses during a photo call to promote the in-competition film "Eisenstein in Guanajuato" at the 65th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin February 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos