The term white crow refers to a person who is both extraordinary and an outsider, a term that clearly applies to the famous Russian ballet dancer defector Rudolph Nureyev. Ralph Fiennes directs from a screenplay by theatre playwright and director (who has also directed a few films) David Hare from the biography Rudolph Nureyev: The life by Julie Kavanagh. It is the first part of his life, apparently the less volatile portion of it. This begs for a sequel to this first look at Nureyev’s younger days.
The film begins with the dancer with his Russian troupe arriving in Paris for a performance for the first time. The year is 1961. As the route steps on to the bus that takes them around the streets of Paris, it is clear that the amount of logistics that have gone into this period piece. The troupe are decked in the 60’s wardrobe with 60’s make-up and hair. The steps on the bus are made of aluminium as they were often made in those days. And the street is filled with 60’s vintage cars. The Parisienne period atmosphere created is stunning as it is and well worth the price of the admission ticket regardless of how Fiennes’ film turns out. His attention to detail, including his speaking of Russian, playing Nureyev’s ballet teacher is to be commended.
The film flashbacks to the year 1938 on a train in the Soviet Union. A woman is in delivery, which the audience assume (correctly) that it is Nureyev being born. The audience sees that the ballet protege was born in poverty but rises to the top not only by talent and hard work but by sheer will of determination, often getting his way by awkward means.
As a biopic, Nureyev’s life story contains sufficient events to make it extremely absorbing if not entertaining. Nureyev is told at the very beginning by a Russian official. Ballet is all about rules and obedience. Nureyev is a rebel. Nureyev is brilliantly portrayed by Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivenko who displays great dance performances as well as a model body to die for. He has sex with both sexes, but the audience is spared the sex scenes.
The film’s shooting locations include the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) and the Louvre in Paris. The important painting ‘the raft’ is shown, displaying how beauty can emerge from ugliness.
For a two hour plus film, director Fiennes paces his film well, with hardly a dull moment. He ends the film with an extremely suspenseful segment that turns out very satisfying for two reason. Firstly, it is a truly well executed nail biter, with shades of TORN CURTAIN, that even Hitchcock would be proud of. Fiennes also takes the risk (that pays of), of intercutting the segment with Nureyev’s mother offering him the crucial words “You do this alone,” while he makes the crucial important decision of whether to defect or go back to Russia. The conclusion is also the termination of Nureyev’s dream for freedom to do the things he wishes, without restriction.
I was in London a month ago when two opening films were hogging the news. THE WHITE CROW (the other film was US) was one of them.