The White Crow – Review
by Dillan-James Carter
The White Crow is the story of a character’s insatiable drive to be the best, to soar above all which shall hold them back and become truly brilliant. It follows the life of world-renowned Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) and his defection from the Soviet Union. Directed by Ralph Fiennes, this film feels like an authentic and intimate look at a man who came from a peasant background in Ufa to reaching the heights of acclaim in the world of dance.
The film interchanges between Nureyev’s trip with the Kirov School of Ballet tour in Paris, and his childhood and life in Russia. From this, we see three facets of his life which contrast heavily with each other through the use of colour ranging from the grey and blizzard-filled peasant life in Ufa, to the dulled pallet of his education and recovery with his teacher, to the vibrance of 1960’s Paris. This choice only adds to the feeling of progression as Nureyev grows from insignificant child to ballet legend. Additionally, the use of wide-angles lens as he visits the cultural landmarks of Paris illustrate the scope of his depth as not just a dancer but growth as an artist.
The portrayal of ballet is one that very rarely hits the silver screen - Oleg Ivenko says that he was shocked to find the audition invitation in his email though he jumped at the opportunity - as well as leaping and pirouetting. Ivenko manages to truly convey the strength of the character’s determination as well as his beginnings as a ‘primo uomo’. The passion is palpable in his dance, the intensity and fluidity of the moves are wonderful to behold, and it all leaves me to wonder what the White Crow was truly like to see live.
Ralph Fiennes also plays Nureyev’s dance teacher Alexander Pushkin: a calm, gentle man who sees the spark in the dancer who’s considered too old to become the best. Though it is not a career defining performance, Fiennes’ presence is always felt and only speaks to his range as an actor.
Pushkin’s wife, Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) engages with her husband’s protégé, leading to a love affair between the two which touches upon the famed sexual experimentation of Nureyev- though in a way that feels tasteful and exploratory. Again the theme of growth is highlighted as it is with his art form and his wonder about what the west has to offer. These factors play a crucial role in understanding why he chose to defect from the Union, although the fact that we will never know the true driving reason adds to the incapsulating mystery of the greatest male dancer of a generation.