Ralph Fiennes third take as a director, producer and actor in the film The White Crow is an astonishing portrait of the youth of Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, his ascendance to fame and his quest for freedom in the midst of the Cold War. The film stars Ukrainian ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko, who interprets Rudolf Nureyev, one of the greatest ballet dancers of the twentieth century in this semi-political thriller about his quest for freedom in the West at the climax of the Cold War.
In the spring of 1961, as the Berlin Wall was under construction, the prestigious Russian Mariinsky Ballet Company went on tour across Europe to perform at l’Opéra Garnier in Paris and the Royal Opera House in London. An established ballet sensation in the Soviet Union, Nureyev had a stellar role in the ballet company’s productions of La Bayadère. His immense talent earned him the title of 'The White Crow', a Russian expression to designate someone who is outstanding. The film takes us on his self-discovery journey during his stay in Paris, experience that was essential to his coming-of-age process.
Rudolf Nureyev was born in 1938 on board of the TransSiberian Express and was raised by his mother in Tatar Muslim family while his father was away, stationed with the Red Army. During his childhood in Siberia, he took his first steps into the world of ballet, consequently becoming one of the greatest stars of Russian ballet as he rose to fame at the Mariinsky School in Leningrad. In 1961, Nureyev was caught in the middle of a diplomatic scandal between the East and the West as he decided to ask for political asylum to stay in France while he was on tour with Mariinsky Ballet Company.
Following his defection from the Soviet Union, he became an international sensation. He became the Principal Dancer of The Royal Ballet in London along with the great Prima Ballerina Margot Fonteyn, and Director of the Paris Opera Ballet later on in his life. He died in Paris in 1992 after struggling with AIDS for over a decade.
Throughout the film, scenes of Nureyev’s journey in Paris are alternated with flashback scenes from his childhood and his debut with the Mariinsky Ballet. Therefore, the three main axes of the movie’s storyline are as follows: Nureyev’s though childhood in Siberia raised by his mother in difficult conditions; his way into the Mariinsky Ballet and his perseverance with ballet training to reach perfection in Leningrad and finally, the discovery of beauty, success and liberty in Paris as he falls in love with the city of lights and the freedom of the Western world.
The film also exposes Nureyev’s quest to define his sexuality. He finds himself trapped in the middle of a love triangle with Xenia, the wife of his ballet instructor Pushkin, interpreted by Fiennes and his fellow ballet companion and lover, Teja Kremke while he was still living in Leningrad. During his stay in Paris, he also finds himself in a constraining love situation as he meets Clara Saint, a Chilean-born Parisian socialite portrayed by Adèle Exarchopoulos, who introduces him to the Parisian high life. As they spend time together, she falls for him, however, he does not seem to correspond to her feelings and finds himself attracted by men.
Aesthetically, the film is greatly inspired from Soviet cinema classics such as Andrei Tarkovski and Sergueï Eisenstein's movies in the Siberia sequences of the film which represent Nureyev’s childhood as they were shot in black and white and truly capture the cruel soviet winter. The scenes of Nureyev’s youth in Leningrad are carefully curated to assemble beautiful pastel compositions with clean cuts that embody the rigour and delicacy of ballet and encapsulate the springtime of Nureyev’s life. The aesthetics of the Paris sequences echoe the master on the French Nouvelle Vague, Jean-Luc Godard, and his distinctive use of bright primary colours. The use of these colours epitomise the summer and youth in contrast to the toughness of the Siberian winter, exalt the personal renaissance of Nureyev through his experiences in Paris.
The White Crow is a truthful rendition of the youth of the Lord of the Dance, as Nureyev was known, and is a majestic portrait of the grace and elegance of Russian ballet and an ode to freedom. Even though the political tension between the USSR and the Western bloc is a constant theme during the movie, as it is set in the climax period of the Cold War and the diplomatic scandal Nureyev is involved in is a hiatus of this war, the film successfully achieved to portray his youth. Nureyev’s quest for freedom from the oppressing Soviet regime through dance heralds the power of art over the power of politics.
Edited by Dimitrina Dyakova, Deuty Digital Editor