Celebrated for his three groundbreaking silent films (Strike, October, The Battleship Potemkin), Russian director Sergei Eisenstein set his sights on North America. But his projects were rejected by Hollywood studio heads. So, in 1931, he accepted an invitation to make a film in Mexico (Que Viva Mexico), financed by author Upton Sinclair and assorted sympathizers. It all came to naught film-wise, but director Peter Greenaway revisits Eisenstein’s time in Mexico with an arty and occasionally amusing film.
We never see Eisenstein at work, but instead are spectators to his sexual awakening (with his Mexican guide, played by Luis Alberti) and his ruminations on love and death (so conveniently intertwined in Mexican culture). Eisenstein also enjoys Mexico’s sunny sensuality and his hotel’s brocaded luxury, situations likely in contrast to his more repressed and austere life in the Soviet Union.
The film provides some background on Eisenstein, but the more you know about the director, his work and those tumultuous times for left-leaning artists, the more you will take from this film. It is lovely to look at, with beautiful set pieces and plenty of style — Greenaway nods to Eisenstein’s works with black-and-white segments and frequent use of triptychs. Imer Back, as Eisenstein, gives one of those all-in performances that is great fun to watch.