Soviet director Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein crammed quite a bit of living into his brief 50 years of life: Before his death in 1948, he not only revolutionized modern cinema, but provided a body of written work that continues to serve as a cornerstone of film theory. The complexity of his character and the apparent contradictions of his life make him a knotty subject for any biographer, but Canadian director Renny Bartlett takes an interesting approach in this fanciful, fictionalized account of Eisenstein's career. It may not be entirely reliable in historical terms, but it offers an intriguing impression of the man, his art and his times. The film begins at the end, with a 49-year-old Eisenstein (Simon McBurney) suffering what would prove to be a fatal heart attack. "Well that was a sad little end," he snorts in voice over, and the film flashes back to Moscow, 1922, and a 24-year-old Eisenstein's first encounter with his "Lucifer" Vsevolod Meyerhold (Jonathan Hyde), the great modernist theater director who became both Eisenstein's mentor and imposing, inescapable father figure. Under Meyerhold, Eisenstein learns to create character through action; under the filmmaker Lev Kushelov, he learns to create meaning through montage. Convinced that theater is little more than redundant fantasy, Eisenstein and collaborator Grisha Alexanderov (Raymond Coulthard) whom some suspect was also Eisenstein's lover turn to film, creating first STRIKE then BATTLESHIP POTEMKIN (both 1925), a monumental achievement that would earn the 26-year-old director the mantle of "greatest filmmaker in the world." Now under the personal scrutiny of Josef Stalin and the Central Committee, Eisenstein's troubles begin. Bartlett dismisses much of the ambiguity swirling around Eisenstein's life: His Eisenstein is most certainly gay and was never really one of Stalin's toadies. And thanks to a wonderful performance from British actor McBurney, the film is surprisingly entertaining: The dramatization of Eisenstein's trip to Mexico, where he and Grisha attempt to make QUE VIVA MEXICO!, is marvelous. Other moments are a little obvious (Eisenstein transfixed as a woman wheels a baby carriage down the Odessa steps), while others still are downright goofy. The scene in which the cast and crew of IVAN THE TERRIBLE PART II are celebrating its completion when the call comes through with Stalin's verdict on PART I ("I've got the Kremlin on the line!") wouldn't be out of place in a Hollywood backstage musical of the 1930s.
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- Released: 2000
- Rating: NR
- Review: Soviet director Sergei Mikhailovich Eisenstein crammed quite a bit of living into his brief 50 years of life: Before his death in 1948, he not only revolutionized modern cinema, but provided a body of written work that continues to serve as a cornerstone o… (more)