Film Review: The White Crow

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Whether you are a die hard fan of ballet or cannot stand it, few artists of the 20th century rival the bravado and brilliance of Rudolf Nureyev. It seems like a film should have been already made such is the fascination in his story. 

The White Crow

Dir: Ralph Fiennes

Starring: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Sergei Polunin, Olivier Rabourdin, Raphaël Personnaz, Chulpan Khamatova & Zach Avery.

This would reek of a vanity project for Ralph Fiennes, who acts, directs and even speaks in Russian, were it not for the grand performance of Oleg Ivenko as the star ballerina. Fiennes’ direction creates two different styles between flashback and Paris in 1961 within the film. The memories of Nureyev have an almost Tarkovsky like feel in appearance, even changing the ratio of the screen, pleasing for the most part. The film is subtle in many respects, creating a deep focus on the subject character with his artistry and actions.   

Few would argue the ego or stubborn persona of Nureyev, though here Ivenko does not go overboard with these tantrums, though he does a have a few of them anyway. His ballet sequence at times can barely capture the break neck speed in when his body transforms the space it’s in. A scene in Sainte-Chapelle, an exquisite stained glass chapel in the middle of Paris, is borough to life with splendour, with the ballerina declaring “I want to live here!” such is his astonishment in the place. Moments like this really bring the film together, the extended ballet scene giving fans what they want ,without alienating film goers too much. 

It is the tense airport scene in which he defects to France, to flee from the grasp the of USSR, (a looming presence throughout the entire film), which really makes the film. It was an on the edge of the seat moment which I have not felt in the cinema for a while. Why he wanted to leave is not as clear as we might expect, though little justification is required when we see the agents who pester him constantly on tour. His love of the capitalist lifestyle is proven in his love of late night drinking sessions and an all round sense of abandon which defines his character.         

There is little in the film to show both sides of his sexuality, apart from his fling with another male dancer. The ending which says when he died does not even go into the fact he died of AIDS in 1993. There is some disappointment here, were it not for that single gay scene and another in which he looks longingly at another man, there would nothing to show the real man and his love of the same sex. 

Although the film is not perfect, it will prove to be of great interest to see how Fiennes casts his directorial net next. 


The White Crow is now on limited release. 

Photo Credit: Phoenix Leicester Website

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