Northwestern Press

Sunday, July 21, 2019
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICSFrom left: Oleg Ivenko (Rudolph Nureyev), Ralph Fiennes (Alexander Pushkin), “The White Crow” CONTRIBUTED PHOTO COURTESY SONY PICTURES CLASSICSFrom left: Oleg Ivenko (Rudolph Nureyev), Ralph Fiennes (Alexander Pushkin), “The White Crow”

Movie Review: Rudolf Nureyev, defection and all

Friday, May 24, 2019 by Paul Willistein pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

“The White Crow” takes its title from a Russian term for someone who is “unusual, extraordinary, an outsider” to tell the story of the defection in 1961 of Soviet Union ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

The film is directed at a studious and measured pace by Ralph Fiennes, who appears as Alexander Pushkin, ballet teacher to Nureyev at Leningrad Choreographic School (now Vaganova Ballet Academy).

Fiennes (Oscar nominee, actor, “The English Patient,” 1996; Oscar nominee, supporting actor, “Schindler’s List,” 1993) seems to have a penchant for weighty drama inspired by historic figures. Fiennes directed “The Invisible Woman” (2013), about a female acquaintance of Charle Dickens, and “Coriolanus” (2011), about a Roman Empire leader and based on the William Shakespeare play.

With “The White Crow,” Fiennes met his match. The retelling of the story concentrates on a portion of Nureyev’s life when he performed in Paris, France, as part of a tour by the Leningrad ballet school.

The defection by Nureyev was the first of a Soviet artist during the Cold War. Nureyev danced with The Royal Ballet, London, 1983-1989, and was director of the Paris Opera Ballet. Nureyev died in 1993 at age 54 from complications of AIDS.

Along with “The Red Shoes” (1948) and “Black Swan” (2010), ”The White Crow” is a must-see for fans of the ballet and dance.

With an almost deliberate documentary style, Fiennes portrays Nureyev’s relationship with Pushkin and his apparently often more than fllirtatious situations with Pushkin’s wife, Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova); a female fan, Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos, “Blue is the Warmest Color,” 2013); fellow male ballet dancer, Teja Kremke (Louis Hofmann, ”Red Sparrow,” 2018), and roommate Ukrainian dancer, Yuri Soloviev (Sergei Polunin, ”Red Sparrow”).

Nureyev is played beautifully and extraordinarlily by Oleg Ivenko, a dancer with Tatar State Ballet, Kazan, Russia, in his feature film acting debut. Ivenko, who bears a strong resemblance to Nureyev, plays the ballet star with haughty grace, athletic prowess and enough sweetness to balance the obnoxiousness. That Ivenko is such a good dancer, is a bonus.

The film has a cast of actors with memorable visages too many to list here.

“The White Crow” takes us to a time in the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union that remnds us why the leaders of these nations were never, and may never be, friends, nor should be comrades, appearances to the contrary.

The screenplay is written by David Hare (Oscar nominee, adapted screenplay, “The Reader,” 2008, and “The Hours,” 2002) based on the book, “Rudolf Nureyev: The Life,” by Julie Kavanagh.

The film direction and screenplay are awkwardly insistent and interruptive in use of flashback to represent Nureyev’s youth, when his mother took Nureyev, age 8 (Maksimilian Grigoriyev), to the dance academy. The obvious intent is to convey the sense of abandonment that Nureyev may have felt to understand his aloofness, walled-in personality, and seeming cruelty in dealing with romantic interests, friends and the public.

This layering of the Nureyev mystery sets up the film’s powerful final 20 minutes, which eclipses misgivings the movie-goer may have with the preceding majority of the film, and brings the movie to an emotional climax.

“The White Crow” isn’t perfect. The title never really squares the circle with the personage of Nureyev.

Then again, nothing could be as perfect as the great and legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.

Despite its clumsy title, “The White Crow” is something to crow about.

“The White Crow,” MPAA Rated R (Restricted Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.) for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language; Genre: Biography, Drama; Run time: 2 hrs., 7 mins. Distributed by Sony Pictures Classics.

Box Office: May 24-27 weekend box office results were unavailable because of the early Focus deadline for the Memorial Day holiday.

Credit Readers Anonymous: “The White Crow” was filmed in France, Serbia, Croatia, and St. Petersburg, Russia.

Unreel, May 29:

“Godzilla: King of the Monsters,” PG-13: Michael Dougherty directs Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown, Ken Watanabe and the big CGI guy in the Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Action film. Godzilla and other monsters are back, including Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah.

“Rocketman,” R: Dexter Fletcher directs Taron Egerton, Jamie Bell, Richard Madden and Bryce Dallas Howard in the Biography Drama, for which Egerton is said to have sung the Elton John songs in the title role.

“Ma,” R: Tate Taylor directs Octavia Spencer, Diana Silvers, Juliette Lewis and McKaley Miller in the Horror Thriller about a lonely middle-aged woman who lets group of teenagers have a party at their house.

Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes