The White Crow
A snapshot into the life of ballet great Rudolf Nureyev before he became a global star after he broke free of the USSR and defected to the West.
As well establishing himself as one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers, Rudolph Nureyev experienced a defining moment during the ‘60s which changed the entire course of his existence.
In Ralph Fiennes’ new film, his third directorial project, we meet a young and defiant Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko), who has found ballet relatively late and is determined to be the very best.
Living and training in his native USSR, Nureyev’s natural talent, while not perfect, soon sets him apart, but his path to the top isn’t a smooth one.
He butts heads first with the teachers of the Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet, before he is taken under the wing of kindly ballet master Alexander Pushkin (Fiennes speaking in fluent Russian) and his wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova), and then with the director of the Kirov Ballet (now Mariinsky), Konstantin Sergeyev (Nebojsa Dugalic), and even with government officials.
But his talent, which comes with a giant dollop of arrogance, is undeniable, and the 20-something Nureyev is included in the troupe of dancers who leave the USSR for a tour of Europe.
When they land in Paris, a landmark moment for the ballet school and USSR as a whole who want to use the tour as a propaganda tool, for the first leg of the trek, a new world is opened up to the dancer, one not bound by strict socialist rules.
He makes friends with local dancer Pierre (Raphael Personnaz) and socialite Clara Saint (Adele Exarchopoulos), which raises more than just eyebrows with KGB agent Vitaly Strizhevsky (Aleksey Morozov), who’s been tasked with minding the loose cannon.
As his Paris trip draws to a close, it’s Pierre and Clara, who, after knowing him only a few short weeks, come to his rescue and help him defect to the West, leaving the chains of the Soviet Union behind forever.
Told in present day action as well as flashbacks to Nureyev’s childhood and early days as a ballet student, Fiennes presents a snapshot into Nureyev’s intriguing life before he found global fame. Although a lot of the dialogue is in Russian with subtitles, the story is always absorbing, thanks to the work of a fine cast of actors, and of course the many dance scenes.
It’s interesting to see Paris through a 1960s lens, but the real intrigue lies in how the USSR operated at this time. The ‘60s may be a distant memory, but its a familiar one, whereas communist Russia is completely alien, and it’s this aspect of the film that is so fascinating.
Newcomer Ivenko is a dead ringer for the baller great, and does well in the demanding role. He captures Nureyev's all consuming-passion, as well as his defiance and arrogance. His temper and tantrums became notorious and here we witness the start of that.
Fiennes proves again to be as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it. We get to see Paris, a city full of wonder, beauty and culture, as Nureyev did, and in stark contrast tp the former USSR.
This is not a flashy dance biography, but it has a fire in its belly and is full of understated elegance.
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