The White Crow





Films about the art of dance can transcend us to a place in our imagination and they often make me jealous that I can't move half that good. There is something about the expression of the body and a combination of beautiful music, it is a type of art that hits the center of the soul. In The White Crow, director Ralph Fiennes captures the essence of dance, the passion that exuded from Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko), and the obstacles he faced as a Russian artist living during the cold war. Sadly, however, the narrative is often muddled, with performances from people who are better dancers than actors, making The White Crow a frustrating piece of work. Stay for the dance. Leave the drama out of it.

Often in biopics of this nature, we learn about a person with a high level of confidence, similar to Bohemian Rhapsody, or last years At Eternity's Gate. This time, the artist is ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, a passionate man that left his mark on the world of dance. For Nureyev, dancing was not just something he wanted to be the best at, he surrounded himself with art, and had a hunger to conquer the stage. The story begins with Nureyev wandering Paris on his own, bored with his traveling dance group, and quickly enrolling into the school of the great dance teacher- Alexander Pushkin (Fiennes). Early on, we see that Nureyev is soaring above the competition, but he constantly seeks for validation of his greatness, something that Pushkin will not oblige, but Puskin's wife- Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) provides more than enough. The narrative then turns to Rudi desperately trying to break away from the oppression of the Soviet Union and reach his full dance potential on his own. This creates a tension for Rudi, while his dancing success, his friendship with a French woman named Clara (Adele Exarchopoulos), and his passion for living begins to expand beyond the watchful eye of his Russian dance instructors.

One of the major conflicts of The White Crow is the casting choice of Oleg Ivenko. It is a catch-22 situation for Fiennes and the audience, where the professional dancer has magnificent ability as a ballet dancer, but often plays the role stiff, struggling to convey someone who isn't memorizing lines in his head. What is clear, however, is that Fiennes knows how to direct a film. His previous two films involved Charles Dickens and the work of Shakespeare, so he has a taste for a higher brow of cinema. In the hands of anyone else, The White Crow would be a mess, and although the screenplay by David Hare bounces between Nureyev's youth and dance rise too much, there is a gentle touch from Fiennes that I greatly appreciated. Mixed with beautiful cinematography and a score that lifts us up, The White Crow takes flight.

The final result is a movie that feels beautifully flawed. Unlike the mundane Red Joan last week, The White Crow at least understands how to engage the audience with it's main character, and create a tense situation when Nureyev fights to defect from the USSR. We get to learn a little bit about the life of Nureyev, who is the perfect example of how oppression, and government can be a hinder to the arts. The White Crow is a film with an appreciation of a beautiful dancer, visually gorgeous, but fails to balance the art with the tragedy. There are missteps along the way, but The White Crow eventually finds its footing.


Written by: Leo Brady