The life and defection of Rudolf Nureyev has been covered several times in documentary and docudrama over recent years. Both 2015s BBC docudrama ‘Dance to Freedom’ and 2018s documentary ‘Nureyev’ offering perspectives on the man, his life and the art form he inhabited. White Crow therefore needed to add something new and fresh to the story of his life, and in a limited way it achieves this via David Hares nuanced adaptation of Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Nureyev.
The film’s central focus lays within Nureyev’s first European tour, a trip that opened his eyes to western culture in early 1960s Paris and resulted in his defection from Russia just as the light of his talent began to burn brightly in the public consciousness. Hares script dovetails Paris into flashbacks of Nureyev’s training and childhood, offering some fresh perspectives on the man and his motivations. However, the very aesthetic that makes White Crow different to previous adaptations and explorations of Nureyev, is also its biggest flaw due to direction that bounces between timelines, leading White Crow to feel like a trilogy of films mashed into one 2 hour feature. This rushed exploration of youth and childhood does not allow the audience to fully build understanding of the man, instead providing glimpses that talk to his character and desires; a wasted opportunity in exploring the building blocks of dancing genius.
Ralph Fiennes direction is assured, with a cinematic design that plays to early 1960s Paris beautifully throughout, intertwining the coldness and poverty of Nureyev’s childhood with the vibrance and colour of dance, art and self exploration. However, cinematically White Crow feels like it could have benefitted from a wider screen canvas, rather than the average widescreen format its inhabits, especially given its beautiful exploration of art and dance versus culture and identity.
Performances are solid throughout, with first time actor and Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko giving a layered and compelling vision of Nureyev, that does not seek to romanticise his character; showing his flaws, his abruptness and passion for art and success, alongside his beauty and physical prowess. With Ivenko we see a vision of Nureyev as a man who refused to fit the society he belonged to, constantly pushing boundaries and challenging his own ability to shake off the poverty of his childhood. Nureyev’s sexuality is dealt with a nuanced manner, viewing his desire through art and imagery as well as physical relationships with both males and female’s who can further his understanding and abilities; his true desires sitting firmly in his art form rather than physical love or desire. His final choices in defection are based on his desire to further develop his understanding and talents, rather than emotional connections to friends, family or potential lovers.
White Crow offers a beautiful and complex character study of a man equally complex in emotions, defiance and passion , but never truly sores to the heights it should in exploring the life of an artistic legend. Feeling overly crowded in its narrative, White Crow never fully allows the audience inside the childhood and adult emotions and experiences that led to a 23 year old to defect from their home country. However, it does engage and captivate throughout, offering some new perspectives, even if they are limited in fruition.
Country: United Kingdom 🇬🇧 and France 🇫🇷
Director: Ralph Fiennes