THE WHITE CROW, from Sony Pictures Classics, tells the true life story of the sensational headline-grabbing 1961 defection to the West of young Soviet ballet star Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko, in a breakthrough role), one of the world’s most acclaimed dancers. Famed actor Ralph Fiennes directs and has a small role and big help from award-winning playwright/filmmaker David Hare (Plenty, The Reader, etc.), who wrote the script.
The film follows 22 year old Nureyev on a first and rare cold war visit of Soviet performers to the West; his and our good fortune is that it is Paris where he as part of the renowned Kirov Ballet troupe begins a European tour at the Paris Opera. Fiennes plays Nureyev’s mentor and teacher as world-renowned Kirov School ballet master Alexander Pushkin. Many flashbacks — monochrome for the earlier years — convey Nureyev’s poor background in provincial Russia and his first steps to stardom as a ballet student in St. Petersburg, then called Leningrad, where his talent blossoms. But it is in Paris, where Nureyev and the Kirov Ballet Company, begin their tour and where the drama and smaller ones unfold. Nureyev’s performance seduces the crowds and he, in turn, is seduced by Western art (especially paintings at the Louvre) and by Western freedoms to share ideas and enjoy with abandon. More specifically, he discovers a gay Paree where he can become his truer self. All culminates in the breathtaking Le Bourget airport sequence fraught with emotion and political intrigue, that pits Nureyev, ready to spread his own wings and stay in the West, against his Soviet/KGB handlers, determined to hold onto him.
Cast couldn’t be better, especially renowned ballet dancer Oleg Ivenko, whose startling debut serves as a grande jetée into a screen career should he want that; Adèle Exarchopoulos (playing Nureyev’s well-connected Paris socialite friend), who previously co-starred in the startlng Blue is the Warmest Color; Fiennes as a wholly credible Soviet, even speaking a perfect Russian (assuming it wasn’t a great dub job); and the many supporting performers (notably France’s wonderful Raphaël Personnaz, a Gallic Matthew Goode for sure).
Quite a technical achievement. Beautifully shot and with all authentic or authentic-looking locations, whether in the deepest Soviet woods or provincial hovels to the grand spaces of Leningrad and Paris or Paris hotspots of lesser scale but grander fun.
Fine handling of the numerous languages spoken, so that subtitles won’t fatigue the subtitle-averse and the various languages won't offend the linguistically savvy.
Fiennes deftly manages the story’s many time shifts, largely moving smoothly amongst childhood, schooling, and later Paris sequences.
A few shifts jar, such as that to an empty Palace Square (was it?) in St. Petersburg but the sheer beauty of its vastness and majesty (whatever the square) is worth the detour. Note that the Dinghy and New York Times critic could not have seen the same version of this engaging, gorgeous film.