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The White Crow - DVD Review

The White Crow

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RALPH Fiennes’ third directorial offering is undoubtedly his most ambitious (following The Invisible Woman and Coriolanus), and yet his most flawed too.

The true story of ballet legend Rudolf Nureyev and his defection to the West from Russia, the film has plenty to offer in terms of fascinating narrative but is sometimes let down by too much attention to ballet itself, and not enough to really getting underneath the skin of its central character.

The result is a film that plays well to ballet aficionados, yet equally one that could feel like a bit of a drag for those simply checking in to find out more about a fascinating chapter in East vs West cultural history.

Adapted from Julie Kavanagh’s biography of Nureyev by David Hare, the film predominantly unfolds in the early 60s, as Nureyev finds himself seduced by Paris at the age of 23, while on his first European tour. It’s during this tour that he makes his life-changing decision, with the help of a well-connected Parisian ally, Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos).

But the film also throws in flashbacks of his childhood and early manhood as a rebellious, and borderline precocious, young student in Leningrad, where he is taken under the wing of sympathetic dance teacher and mentor Alexander Pushkin (Fiennes himself) and his wife, Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova).

There’s no denying that Nureyev’s tale is as fascinating as it is timely, given current tensions between the West and Russia, as well as the ongoing debate about sexuality and being true to your own self.

But rather than directly confront the latter, Fiennes’ film remains ambiguous about its subjects sexuality, suggesting more of a gay identity (barring one nude exchange with a lover) and focusing more on his relationships with both Clara (suggestive) and Xenia (sexually manipulative).

In that regard, the film feels restrained and risk averse – something its subject matter most definitely was not.

As Nureyev himself, first-time actor Oleg Ivenko gives a straight-laced performance that draws favourable comparisons. Yet by opting to play up some of Nureyev’s less likeable qualities (as well as his outsider leanings), he never really gets under the skin of his subject to suggest what really makes him tick. Rather, he comes across as rude, selfish and unsympathetic, at the best of times.

This feels less a directorial decision and more like a performance and screenplay shortcoming in the way that it offers so very little.

That being said, Fiennes does display a keen eye for period detail and orchestrates a nice – if largely tension-free – defection sequence to close the film. He also delivers a quietly sympathetic performance of his own, as Pushkin, book-ending the film with an interview that taps into some real emotion.

But while engaging for long periods, The White Crow ultimately falls short in leaving you completely satisfied. It’s a flawed biopic, albeit one made with the best of intentions.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 127mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: August 5, 2019