The White Crow Review
Rudolf Nureyev once stated "Technique is what you fall back on when you run out of inspiration."
The White Crow is an excellent example of both technique and inspiration as Ralph Fiennes beautifully realises and directs the story of the ballet legend and his sensational defection to the West in 1961.
The White Crow is Fiennes’ third film as a director, following Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman and working from a compelling script by noted playwright and screenwriter David Hare (The Hours, The Reader). Fiennes gives his period drama a present-tense urgency that draws the viewer into the life of Nureyev during a period of perpetual perfection and peril.
Hare's adaptation of Julie Kavanagh's biography of Nureyev, Rudolph Nureyev: The Life, skilfully sketches his past life via flashbacks of childhood and early manhood as a tempestuous young student in Leningrad as he lives with his mentor Pushkin and his wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova).
Nureyev, as portrayed by the Ukrainian ballet star and first-time actor Oleg Ivenko is a temperamental and thin-skinned genius who views dance as a transcendence to success and a means to determine his own future. Ivenko has a natural screen presence and manages to hold his own even in scenes with Fiennes. The two-time Oscar nominee (Schindler’s List, The English Patient) , plays the famed dance master Alexander Pushkin, St. Petersburg’s most respected ballet instructor, Fiennes, speaking only in Russian, shows a reserve and restraint as Pushkin as he strives to keep politics out of art and protect his protégé. Fiennes plays him as a soft-spoken, self-effacing man who, at times, appears in love with Nureyev himself and is determined to mould the younger man’s character.
Nureyev's natural curiosity and adventurous nature leads him to nightclubs, museums and local hangouts where he interacts and pontificates with free-thinking and like-minded westerners during the ballet troupe's first visit to Paris, which inevitably causes anxiety amongst his Russian handlers. Nureyev befriends a wealthy and well-connected Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a friendship that becomes instrumental in the tense stand-off between the French and Russian authorities that takes place in the Paris airport towards the conclusion of the film. Even in these taut scenes, Fiennes masterfully combines the thriller elements with meditative flashbacks to Nureyev's childhood and keeps a tight, almost claustrophobic, focus on the dancer. Nureyev continues, even when facing the greatest risk, to predominantly make decisions that benefits his potential artistic future over his perceived personal safety. Nureyev manipulates every conceivable opportunity to remain in the limelight, the one place he is convinced, and determined, he belongs.
The title of the film is explained early on as “White Crow” is Russian slang for an “unusual” person with exceptional ability or an outsider who doesn't fit in anywhere. Nureyev fits both of these descriptions perfectly as his obvious and mercurial talents sets him apart from everyone and his unusual birth on an overcrowded train in transit leaves him lacking in the search for a place of permanence. Nureyev's only search is for his own personal expression and achievement. Friends and fellow students are enamoured by his sexy arrogance, but is left cold when there is no let up in this trait as he keeps everyone at a distressing distance unless the relationship benefits his own goals and ambitions. At every stage of his career, he outgrows mentors or is obliged to leave family or friends in the wake of his vanity and hubris. Nureyev's defection to the West is just another step in this process.
The White Crow is evocative and poetic in execution and disciplined in structure. The cinematography by Mike Eley (Touching the Void) is astute, intimate and gracefully enhances the poise of the ballet on display throughout. Every aspect of the film is perfectly realised as Fiennes orchestrates each element, from the precise acting, the astounding dance and the seductive soundtrack, to compose a divinely balanced piece of cinema.
- Featurette – Rudolf Nureyev: The Legend Behind The White Crow
- Cast and Crew Q&A hosted by Edith Bowman
- Interviews with Cast and Crew
The White Crow (2018)
Dir: Ralph Fiennes | Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Louis Hofmann, Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes | Writers: David Hare (screenplay), Julie Kavanagh (Inspired by her book: "Rudolf Nureyev: The Life")