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.
Sent to Hollywood by movie-mad Joseph Stalin to learn how to make talkies, Eisenstein was financed by writer Upton Sinclair to make a film about post-revolutionary Mexico to be called “Que Viva Mexico!”. He rolled miles of film but ran out of money and a furious Sinclair would never let him edit his movie.
By now under suspicion at home, he returned to Moscow to win back Stalin’s approval with films including “Ivan the Terrible” and died in 1948 at the age of 50.
Spending time in Mexico — “away from all the paranoia and Stalinist persecution,” as Greenaway put it — was a liberating experience for the man who had delighted Soviet propagandists with epic recreations of the 1917 Revolution. In the film he wonders, however, if “filmmakers will be remembered” the way great artists are.
Greenaway is determined to ensure Eisenstein is. An admirer of the Russian filmmaker since his student days, he plans two more films on the subject, saying it is “time to celebrate the greatest film director we have ever known”.
Editing by Liisa Tuhkanen