The White Crow (2018)

RALPH FIENNES

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5//, 2018, , , , Screenplay by , inspired by the book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life by Cinematography by Produced by , , , , Music by  .   Production Design by Costume Design by Film Editing by .

A poor boy from the Russian sticks makes it to Leningrad to study dance and is determined to overcome the disadvantage of having started late and achieve worldwide fame.  His teachers see that his technique is flawed but his charisma is unmistakable, so they encourage his ambition and, once this frequently temperamental upstart named Rudolf Nureyev finds the right teacher in Alexander Pushkin (Ralph Fiennes), he flourishes.  This intelligent and sensitive biopic moves back and forth between three separate time periods, threatening to confuse the viewer but only rarely doing so as it presents Nureyev’s dour childhood, his years of study in Leningrad and the historic 1961 trip to Paris with the Kirov Ballet when he defected to the west.  Fiennes impressively directs the film in Russian and performs his own role in that language, casting first-time actor and actual dancer in the lead role to great effect: Ivenko’s resemblance to the subject of the film is powerful, and it’s so satisfying to watch him pull off the athleticism required of the role without the use of body doubles or any kind of fancy computer graphics, but he’s also potent in the film’s many scenes of quiet reflection in which he is experiencing the turmoil that will eventually lead to his very dangerous decision.  Fiennes has a great deal of respect for Nureyev’s conflicted nature, the fact that he had a fiery personality in the studio, even ordering his superiors out of the room when it suited him, but was so inexpressive about his personal life; the film applies a very hands-off approach to Nureyev’s sexuality (including an affair with , as gorgeous as lightning as ever he was) that feels dissatisfying but is also well in line with Nureyev’s own manner of dealing with the subject in life.  The supporting cast that is assembled is uniformly excellent, the best among equals a riveting as the woman who was instrumental in pulling off a very risky last minute political maneuver, and David Hare’s screenplay is tasteful and intelligent, but there’s something lacking that keeps the film from being more than just good.  Despite being about Nureyev, it’s never really About anything, the plotting is always interesting and the climax in the Paris airport reaches a white-knuckle level of tension, but whether the film means to plumb the depths of the subject’s political ambivalence, the distance between his desire for artistic perfection and lust for fame, or the dual nature of his expressions of love, is never particularly clear, and while it is satisfying, it’s never as profound as its great effort would lead you to believe it could be.

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