Ralph Fiennes takes the director’s helm for the third time in his career with The White Crow. While beautifully shot, Fiennes’ latest fails to nail the life story of ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
The White Crow follows the journey of famous Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) as he travels to Paris at a time when the USSR is treated with suspicion all across Western Europe. Intertwined with moments from his poor childhood, The White Crow attempts to demonstrate not only Nureyev’s exposure to and immediate love for the Parisian art and culture, but also why he eventually chose to defect from the USSR.
Ivenko is brilliant as Nureyev, managing to juxtapose his constant arrogance with his physical strength and beauty as a ballet dancer. There are a lot of layers to Nureyev that Ivenko brings to the surface without ever overshadowing Nureyev’s core characteristics.
Director Ralph Fiennes has taken a risk in choosing a professional dancer to star as his lead, as opposed to a seasoned actor with a body double for the dance scenes. His risk thankfully pays off, as it gives Ivenko’s performance a rawness that I don’t think would have been achieved if Fiennes had chosen otherwise.
The White Crow is beautifully shot, with distinct colour palettes used to define different parts of Nureyev’s life. The glimpses we see of his childhood, with a largely absent father and a mother struggling to feed her children has a distinct, dark blue and grey palette that slowly becomes warmer and brighter as he is accepted into the prestigious Vaganova Academy of Russian Ballet.
Fiennes has also done a wonderful job of making the ballet performances the standout scenes of the film, with a strong focus on capturing Nureyev’s emotions pre and post-performance. There’s a lot of frenetic energy in this film, which is contrasted by the eerie quiet and stillness of the dance scenes, and the result is truly captivating.
For the most part, this film is a great offering from Fiennes, but at times the storytelling becomes disjointed. We are only offered glimpses of Nureyev’s past and are left to our own devices to piece it all together. There are a lot of questions about Nureyev’s character that are left unanswered, with his underdog side never fully explored and his unlikable qualities never explained or justified.
The White Crow is a visually strong delivery from Fiennes but lacks real direction or purpose beyond showcasing a beautiful harmony between Paris and professional ballet. Much more of Nureyev’s story could have been told if the film did not focus so heavily on indulgent shots of Parisian architecture and galleries.
The White Crow is available in Australian cinemas from July 18
Image © Universal Pictures 2019