Ralph Fiennes directs the exceptional The White Crow, a film delicately detailing an excerpt into the life of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev up until his defection to the West.
“Without a story to tell you have no reason to dance,” says Rudolf (Rudi) Nureyev, and I expect 20 years ago when Ralph Fiennes read Julie Kavanagh’s Rudolf Nureyev: The Life, little did he know, that within it, he would find a story that he would go on to tightly choreograph.
Having previously directed Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman, The White Crowis the third film that Fiennes helms.
The aptly titled film states the definition of a white crow, its meaning is a Russian idiom referring to someone who is unique, extraordinary and stands out from the crowd, and Rudolf Nureyev certainly epitomises that analogy.
Nureyev was born to defy convention, he was driven to and succeeded in elevating the male role to equal a prima ballerina. As the only boy and having three sisters his senior, did these formative years inadvertently determine and influence his path?
Whilst in Paris the young dancer was consumed by the art and culture. It inspired him and informed him as a performer. But under the close scrutiny of the KGB, this young fledgling on tour with Kirov Ballet Company was about to get his wings clipped.
For a filmmaker like Fiennes authenticity is key. He does not provide a sanitised version of the man. He does not shy away from revealing the less desirable character traits of the dancer; the film reveals a complex, self-assured individual, relentless in his pursuit of self-perfection.
Screenwriter David Hare has skilfully crafted a non-linear story in which we will journey to three specific chapters in Rudi’s life; Paris 1961, where he will make his life changing decision; his training in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) 1955-1961; and back to his impoverished childhood in 1940s Ufa.
Not only does interspersing these timelines provide a more engaging form of story-telling, but this also allows for the filmmakers to offer contrasting visual styles.
As well as directing the film, Fiennes plays the supporting role of Nureyev’s teacher Alexander Pushkin. Having interviewed him previously for Two WomenI had already witnessed the actor competently deliver an emotive performance whilst mastering Russian dialogue.
Perhaps life imitates art as Pushkin teaches Nureyev, Fiennes takes ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko who plays Rudi, under his wing to teach him the craft of screen acting. Regardless as to my theory Ivenko takes flight with the character and delivers a believable portrayal, for me, I was looking at Rudolf Nureyev.
What is also gratifying from The White Crow as with all good films about iconic historic figures, is that it justly satisfies what you want to know for the story needs, but it also leaves you wanting to go on your own voyage of discovery and learn more, be it about the person, the period or the politics.
Take a look at the Trailer!
Words by Claire Bueno
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