The White Crow (2018)
A group of Soviet friends attend their regular meeting on a Sunday afternoon to discuss art, science and all manner of things. The mood is buoyant. The bad times are behind them and their country is about to send a man into space. They toast to the future and join in singing a Russian ballad. Except one. Despite being made to feel welcome at the gathering, he remains an outsider. He is the white crow.
Shortly thereafter, Rudolf Nureyev became the first Russian artist to defect to the West. The White Crow depicts the ballet dancer’s life leading up to that point. Told in a non-lineal fashion, the story alternates between three time periods which can at times be puzzling. Though the bleak greyscale of his poverty-stricken childhood is marvellously contrasted with the Kodachrome palette of Nureyev’s tour of Paris, his years at the Vaganova Academy are not so easily distinguishable. Knowing that Nureyev’s mentor Alexander Pushkin did not accompany him in Paris may serve as a guide through this confusion.
In his third effort as director, Ralph Fiennes paces the film in a manner that is reflective of his finest slow-burn characterisations as an actor. Yet the trajectory of his protagonist is decidedly different. Throughout the film, the volatile Nureyev shows no fear or favour when expressing his annoyance. Yet when the climatic events arrive at Le Bourget airport, he remains a muted passenger, bringing into sharp focus the impact of Soviet oppression only hinted at in earlier scenes.
First-time actor Oleg Ivenko’s on-screen presence immediately justifies the wisdom of casting a dancer as Nureyev. Remarkably at ease in front of the camera, on stage Ivenko takes flight in some truly wondrous ballet sequences. Nevertheless, one suspects that like Nureyev, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Alexander Godunov before him, further film opportunities will be limited.
Although it is widely believed that Nureyev had an affair with Alexander Pushkin's wife, it has never been confirmed.
Events depicted in biopic take place before any of Nureyev's film appearances.