THE WHITE CROW – Ralph Fiennes’ Nureyev Biopic

Rudolf Nureyev is still considered one of the greatest male ballet dancers of all time and has a personality and a colourful life story worthy of a great biopic.

Ralph Fiennes is one of the greatest actors of his generation and has dabbled in direction a couple of times. THE WHITE CROW will be his third feature film in bringing the biopic of the “Lord of the Dance” to life.

THE WHITE CROW is out now in cinemas from Universal Pictures, it is rated M and runs for 127mins.

Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev in THE WHITE CROW
Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev

BY JASON KING

THE WHITE CROW SYNOPSIS:

Director Ralph Fiennes captures the raw physicality and brilliance of Rudolf Nureyev, whose escape to the West stunned the world at the height of the Cold War. With his magnetic presence, Nureyev emerged as ballet’s most famous star, a wild and beautiful dancer limited by the world of 1950s Leningrad. His flirtation with Western artists and ideas led him into a high-stakes game of cat and mouse with the KGB. 

“It is a life of bullying, for the artist as for everyone else, but most of all for the artist. When I was a student at ballet school, I was told what to think, what to read, how to spend my spare time, and who could be my friends. . . . Private life in the Soviet Union is impossible.”

When interviewed in 1961 about why Nureyev wanted to flee Russia
Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev and Raphaël Personnaz as Pierre Lacotte in THE WHITE CROW
Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev and Raphaël Personnaz as Pierre Lacotte

A MISSED OPPORTUNITY FOR A NUREYEV BIOPIC:

Moments in Fiennes’ THE WHITE CROW shine brightly and then there are moments that flatline. The film is told in three sections; in Nureyev’s childhood, told with annoyingly placed flashbacks that make little sense, to his emerging years in ballet and discovering his endless arrogance, and then mostly in France where his dance troupe was touring. This was the place of his defection and a moment in history that rocked the ballet world during the Cold War.

The defection itself, the most pivotal moment in the movie, didn’t reach the climax the audience deserved.

Dancing is seen as the escape to a better life in THE WHITE CROW as it was in BILLY ELLIOT. Through dance Nureyev can escape the harsh life of the lower-class. Ivenko truly shines when he is dancing and the very few dancing scenes you witness leave you yearning for more of them, sadly they never come.

Seeing Nureyev join the dance classes as a little child was wonderful to watch and his mother pushed and pushed to get him out of Russia through dance but so much of the flashbacks made little sense. His father appears out of nowhere, returned from war (?) and takes Nureyev into a forest in the snow and just leaves him there. Why? His mother abandons him at the dance school? Further abandonment. Is this what made it ok for him to abandon his family to the KGB in Russia?

Louis Hofmann as Teja Kremke in THE WHITE CROW
Louis Hofmann as Teja Kremke

NUREYEV’S SEXUALITY COMES OUT OF NOWHERE:

Another thing that truly annoyed me was that out of nowhere, like a slap in the face, or more like a lot of scenes were cut and what was left remained jarring, was that Nureyev had a gay lover who appears out of nowhere on a side tangent that again made little sense. I am not complaining as his gay lover was played by Louis Hofmann, an actor I absolutely love. He got his full kit off and I smiled haha.

This is after the film has shown Nureyev having sex with women however. I know that Nureyev was gay but I failed to see the need for the in-your-face gay sex scene out of the blue. They could have established his sexuality from the start or removed any sex scenes in the movie at all.

And finally, Nureyev had a reputation for his explosive anger and abuse. The guy was a genius on his feet but his people-skills and erratic tantrums needed a lot of work. In the movie you spend about 45mins siding with him, your love for him matches the empathy you experience for his predicament and then, again jarringly, he abuses someone who cares him, with little care for their feelings. He was a borderline psychopath who felt no empathy for anyone or anything but his own gains and his art.

Ralph Fiennes as Pushkin in THE WHITE CROW
Ralph Fiennes as Pushkin

THE CASTING:

Nureyev is one of the dancing world’s most vibrant, powerful and explosive stars, the man sweated charisma and presence. Oleg Ivenko is a professional Ukrainian dancer who is making his acting debut and sadly, while he adequately performs and holds the eye of the appreciative viewer, he never captures the imposing figure as much as he should have.

As a fun fact, this was originally going to star Hayden Christensen, who trained extensively in ballet as a child. However a persistent ankle injury prevented him from being able to perform to the standards demanded by Fiennes. I really miss Christensen onscreen, he has abundant talent and nearly had his career destroyed by Star Wars fanboys.

Fiennes himself plays one of Nureyev’s coaches. He learned to speak Russian for the part and spoke it as if he has for his entire life. He plays a wet paper bag of a person who appears constantly depressed by his life but is one of the greatest ballet coaches of the time. His character was so bland I wanted to punch some life into him, played to the point of grey by Fiennes.

I will always adore Hofmann onscreen but his part is inconsequential besides a sex scene to let you know that Nureyev liked the peen. Raphaël Personnaz was superb as Pierre Lacotte, Nureyev’s first close friend from another country. And Adèle Exarchopoulos had a great part as Clara Saint but the character annoyed me for putting up with Nureyev’s shit. If it wasn’t for her Nureyev would most likely have been killed by the KGB.

Adèle Exarchopoulos as Clara Saint in THE WHITE CROW
Adèle Exarchopoulos as Clara Saint

IN CONCLUSION:

Rudolf Nureyev is one of the world’s most charismatic and intriguing ballet dancers. His life story is worthy of a biopic of Oscar level. THE WHITE CROW, by Ralph Fiennes, sadly is not this film. Moments of greatness are bogged down by jarring non-linear narrative, confusing side-tangents, and not enough of the beautiful wild ballet the audience will want to see from a Nureyev film.

YOUR CRITIC:

Jason King owns, writes and edits Salty Popcorn and Spooning Australia. He is a movie, food, restaurant, wine, chocolate, bacon, burger and brussels sprouts addict. He is a member of the Australian Film Critics Association and has been in the Australian movie industry for 26yrs. Furthermore he loves watching people trip over and is Leonardo DiCaprio’s biggest fan. 

** Images used are courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor or publisher. Credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.

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