Greenaway explores sex, death with 'greatest film director' biopic

11th February 2015, Comments 0 comments

Britain's Peter Greenaway made a splash Wednesday with his lushly shot, sexually graphic new movie "Eisenstein in Guanajuato", faring better than several fellow heavyweights at the 65th Berlin film festival.

Greenaway, 72, basked in reporters' applause at a press conference after a well-received media preview of the film, one of 19 contenders for the festival's prestigious Golden Bear to be awarded Saturday.

The screening followed mixed reviews for new releases from other giants of Greenaway's generation such as Terrence Malick, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Benoit Jacquot which also premiered in Berlin.

Greenaway's movie tells the little-known story of renowned Soviet-era filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein who after becoming an international star with "Battleship Potemkin", leaves Hollywood for a Mexican town in 1931 to make a new film.

During his self-imposed exile, he finds an eye-opening approach to sex and death and, in the process, finally loses his virginity at the age of 33 to his local guide, Palomino (Luis Alberti).

"Cinema is surely, surely, surely all about sex and death, isn't it?" Greenaway said.

"Most Western art is all about sex and death from the very, very beginning to the very, very end."

As played by Finland's Elmer Baeck, who generated buzz about a possible Silver Bear prize for best actor on awards night, Eisenstein is portrayed as a charming, eccentric genius and a vulnerable clown who falls in love with Mexico.

"He's away from paranoia, he's away from Stalinist persecution and really strange political eccentricities and he was faced with a brand new, very different sort of society," Greenaway said.

"I think there's a lot evidence he freed up, he became much more empathetic to notions of the human condition. The thesis of the film is that the 18 months he spent in Mexico is responsible for that change."

- Sex as 'crown jewel' -

Greenaway said the movie, which uses split screens to weave in archival material, aimed to probe the inner life of "the greatest film director we've ever known".

"How is it that Russia has never made a good film about Eisenstein?" he asked, calling him "the ultimate father figure of world cinema".

Greenaway said that meant taking a frank, close-up look at his sexuality.

The first love scene with Palomino, portrayed as Eisenstein's intellectual equal, leaves little to the imagination, showing the Mexican lover debating the point of life and love with the director while thrusting into him.

"If you want to talk about these things, well then let's do it, let's show you, let's make a demonstration of what's at stake here," Greenaway said, calling the sex scene "the crown jewel in the centre of the film".

The outspoken Greenaway, who is best known for "The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" in 1989 and 1991's "Prospero's Books", said European cinema's heyday was long over.

"Some of these filmmakers as you well know are alive and are represented now in this festival, and their great days... have gone on by," he said.

"Is it their fault, or is the fault of audiences? Cinema is only going to be as good as what we put into it. I don't think that sense of visionary sort of excitement... seems to be with us."

Greenaway said the flow of film funding to superhero blockbusters and the sharp decline in cinema-going as viewers watch movies alone on small devices, were taking a heavy toll.

"I think probably in 10 years' time, the only place where we can see films on big screens in cinemas will be at film festivals," he said.

But he added: "You don't have to be nostalgic, the next thing that's going to happen, whatever it is, you may be sure, it's much more exciting than what we've got now."

© 2015 AFP

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