For his third feature film as director Ralph Fiennes tackles the early career of Rudolph Nureyev, possibly the greatest ballet dancer to ever bound the stage.
Fiennes previous works, Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman, were fine if somewhat safe affairs. Nureyev’s worldwide reputation was one of boundless passion and ego which was back by his enormous talent. Achieving worldwide fame he found himself stifled under the strident rules of the Soviet block in the late 1950s/early 60s, desperate for a way out eventually defecting during a trip to Paris.
Nureyev story is one of two halves. One that balances the intricacies and discipline it takes to achieve such talent with the zeal for life the dancer had in his personal life. Fiennes the director choses to focus on the latter.
Fiennes has discussed in interviews how he knew next to nothing of ballet but found Nureyev’s story to fascinating. In some ways this novice approach to the subject adds to the audience’s appreciation of the craft. The camera is allowed to linger on the training and process. In fact the whole film is a handsome looking piece. The production design and photography wonderfully conjure the sparsity of the USSR whilst bringing vibrancy to the European cities Nureyev visited whilst on tour, conjuring the pure joy he feels when there. The opening scenes feel as though we could be watching a prime piece of 1970s Fassbinder.
The ballet sequences are a delight to behold but the highlight of The White Crow is its final act. Having played out as a vary prosaic biography, the extended sequence is masterfully played out thriller, that truly explains the fear people had for the Soviet regime. It’s almost worth watching the film to get to that point.
Oleg Ivenko as Nureyev has complete command of the physicality’s of the dance sequences. Unfortunately his presence in the dramatic scenes is cold and distant. Often coming across as stilted it’s hard to truly engage with him as a person. Fiennes himself brings warmth and unstated melancholy to the role of Puskin, his mentor and the supporting cast are fine throughout. Perhaps in a bid to represent how true emotion was suppressed for fear of attracting the ire of the Russian authorities much of the drama is underplayed to an extreme.
Despite the strong evocation of the period and that excellent defection sequence The White Crow feels like Fiennes previous works; interesting, worthy but ultimately just fine. A film about a person like Nureyev needs more of what the man himself had, passion.
Dir: Ralph Fiennes
Scr: David Hare, Julie Kavanagh
Cast: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hoffman, Adele Exarchopoulos
Prd: Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Ralph Fiennes, Francois Invernel, Andrew Levitas, Gabrielle Tana
DoP: Mike Eley
Music: Ilan Eshkeri
Run time: 127 mins
The White Crow is available on Blu-Ray and DVD on the 5th Aug