The White Crow, 2019.
Directed by Ralph Fiennes.
Starring Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Sergei Polunin, Louis Hofmann, Olivier Rabourdin, Raphaël Personnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Zach Avery, and Yves Heck.
The story of Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West.
There is much conversation regarding ballet philosophy in The White Crow (legendary actor and serviceable director Ralph Fiennes performing double duty bringing to life a dramatized version of Rudolf Nureyev’s young adulthood, rise to fame, and defection to the West); energy versus control, story versus technique, pop versus art, tradition versus imagination, and so on and so forth. Rudolf himself (Professional dancer and untrained actor Oleg Ivenko, turning in a mixed bag performance that should be pretty obvious where it shines and falters) is an enigmatic persona, dripping with paranoia (KGB officers are strictly starting his actions to ensure he does not become too accustomed to Western civilization when traveling to the more artistic-minded and culturally nonconforming areas such as Paris, all in the name of putting on a show for the masses), both unreasonably and reasonably cocky, and generally far more complexly written by David Hare (inspired by Julie Kavanagh’s book Rudolf Nureyev: The Life) than the actual performance exudes.
It’s actually kind of mystifying that Ralph Fiennes (who actually plays Rudolf’s dance instructor) can take all of these elements but still churn out something that functions as your standard biopic. The White Crow time hops all over the place (especially in the beginning), but only certain points are actually interesting to explore. The childhood flashbacks are nice (mostly because of the monochrome color palette that makes the intentionally dreary present-day visuals stand out as pretty in contrast), Rudolf struggling to fit into a society that he is fascinated by but also looks down on his class status, and the nailbiting final 30 minutes inside of an airport forcing him to make a life-changing decision. The rest of the film is populated by affairs and relationships and other character interactions that don’t really offer much outside decent acting and good production design. It’s a movie that wants to value technique over energy and story but is content sticking to some very bland basics.
The closest The White Crow comes to intriguing character dynamics is with Rudolf’s befriending of a recent widow, the young Parisienne Clara Saint (Adele Exarchopoulos giving a rather lifeless performance that lacks chemistry with Oleg Ivenko, presumably because Oleg simply cannot hold his own outside of the admittedly beautifully choreographed ballet segments that capture the rough-around-the-edges but poetic dance moves) in a scene where Rudolf puts his selfishness and pride on full display inside of a restaurant, insulting Clara in the process. And even though the segment is basically the tired tortured artist trope seemingly always employed for historical figures, her forgiveness for his hurtful actions carries weight; she seems to understand him and it asks the audience to further pick apart Rudolf. From scene to scene your opinion of Rudolf will probably change, but that’s the intended effect and not a bad thing at all here.
Whenever The White Crow isn’t indulging in dialogue that never really pans out as engaging, there are ballet sequences of Rudolf typically playing the roles of princes, juxtaposing onstage wealth with his own impoverished origins. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t really amount to anything, as much of Rudolf’s character is an assortment of logical traits that never really emerge into anything attention-grabbing. There are also bits where he visits the Louvre to gaze at some paintings, and unless you’re also into art I can’t say it will mean much, but some of the editing transitions from present day to childhood making use of the imagery is a nice touch that does expand on Rudolf’s character to a degree. It’s also worth pointing out that for a film jumping between English, Russian, and French languages, the script wisely has Rudolf snap back to his native tongue with poignancy during a heated exchange; oddly enough it’s probably the best moment in the movie.
Among many other things, the film needs a tighter focus. When the parts of a movie that works best are still highly flawed, it’s time to reconfigure some things, mainly the script and approach to the direction (fixate the story on the growing relationship and the KGB pressuring Oleg, rather than incorporate a number of distractions that are nowhere near as interesting). The White Crow is unquestionably competently made from a filmmaking standpoint, but it should take its own advice and inject some energy. It gets there with the final act, but by then it’s too late. Most disappointingly, the film won’t exactly encourage further curiosity in Rudolf Nureyev, which is a shame because it’s clear there is something wonderfully unorthodox about his methods and mind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com