19 March 2019 | euroGary
Enjoyable and entertaining
'The White Crow' tells of Soviet ballet star Rudolf Nureyev's defection to the West in Paris, 1961. And of his years training in Leningrad. And of his poverty-stricken childhood. Three strands running concurrently through the film make for a busy production. The childhood scenes do little more than establish that Nureyev grew up surrounded by poverty and lots of snow. The Leningrad scenes show him as willing to work for his craft, but intense, self-centred and very arrogant - a proper little diva, in fact. Six years later, in Paris, he is still arrogant - demanding, for example, that a French female companion talk to a Russian waiter on his behalf because he suspects the man of looking down on him. But the intensity has weakened, replaced by an interest in what is around him and a happy curiosity in new things. This, however, does not please his KGB minders.
The film is the third from Ralph Fiennes wearing his director's hat. He does a pretty good job: the childhood scenes are shot in bleak, washed-out colours - almost black-and-white - a clever decision which creates atmosphere; and the climactic defection scene in Le Bourget Airport is heavy with tension. There *are* directoral flaws - something as simple as, for example, giving leading man Oleg Ivenko a different haircut for each era would have prevented this viewer's occasional confusion as to whether I was watching 1960s' Paris Nureyev or the 1950s' Leningrad version! And did we need quite so many extreme close-ups of Ivenko's face? But overall, director Fiennes does a good job...
... which makes it a shame that actor Fiennes turns in one of the weakest performances of the film. His portrayal of Nureyev's teacher Pushkin may, for all I know, be true to the real man, but I found it dreadfully studied and mannered, producing a caricature rather than a character (I will, however, give Fiennes full marks for delivering most of his lines in Russian!) Ukrainian dancer Ivenko, in what according to IMDb is his first acting role, turns in a more naturalistic performance, albeit within the confines of the generously-proportioned ego he is portraying. My personal favourite, however, was Chulpan Khamatova in a nicely-judged portrayal of Pushkin's wife Xenia, whose initial motherly interest in Nureyev (prompted by her husband's concern the stroppy teenager is not eating enough) develops over the course of the film.
Seen in preview at the British Film Institute, and - containing good pacing, an interesting story and nicely-rendered period detail - well worth it.