The White Crow
dir Ralph Fiennes
scr David Hare
prd Carolyn Marks Blackwood, Francois Ivernel, Andrew Levitas, Gabrielle Tana
with Oleg Ivenko, Adele Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin, Olivier Rabourdin, Raphael Personnaz, Louis Hofmann, Zach Avery, Calypso Valois, Aleksey Morozov, Nebojsa Dugalic
release US Aug.18 tff, UK Oct.18 lff
18/UK BBC 2h02
The White Crow
Don't fence me in: Ivenko

exarchopoulos fiennes polunin
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The White Crow This Rudolf Nureyev biopic is skilfully shot and acted, but it's both too specific and overly fragmented, which makes it difficult to engage with. David Hare's script has an oddly choppy structure that removes momentum from the plot by jumping unnecessarily between periods, and it glosses over some important elements. Still, Ralph Fiennes' stylish direction keeps it watchable, and the climactic sequence is tensely riveting.

Born on a Russian train and raised in Bashkortostan, Rudolf (Ivenko) pursues ballet training from Pushkin (Fiennes) at the Kirov in Leningrad. His talent is undeniable from the start, but he's becoming notorious for sidestepping the rules. And on the company's first trip to the West in 1961, Rudolf continually sneaks out to explore Paris' museums and cafes without his Soviet minders, befriending Clara (Exarchopoulos) and her friends. And as he gets deeper in trouble, he begins to realise that the Kremlin may be about to scupper his career.

The title is Russian slang for an outsider, which offers an intriguing angle on Nureyev's story as he bristles against the status quo. So the way the film sidelines his sexuality makes it ring oddly false. This is especially awkward in his scenes with Pushkin's seductive wife (Khamatova), which feel bizarrely out of context. That said, Nureyev emerges as a fiercely individualistic figure who rejects the usual male ballet stereotype. So his airport showdown with the company manager (Rabourdin) is heart-stopping.

Ivenko is magnetic as Nureyev, with terrific physicality and internal intensity, even if there's no sign of the larger-than-life diva. The presence of the charismatic Poluninin an extended cameo as a fellow dancer, makes us wish there had been a role swap. But then everyone is relatively muted, including Fiennes as a bookish genius. As his wife, Khamatova has more drive, relentlessly flirting with Nureyev under her husband's nose. While Exarchopolous is also low-key and mousy, far against type as the other woman in his life.

Thankfully, each person has a vivid internal life, which Fiennes brings out through sensitive direction. The film's production design is spot-on, as are a number of beautiful dance sequences. But the nicely shot flashbacks to his childhood are pointless, adding nothing to the larger narrative. So while the script neglects to dig very deeply into Nureyev's true nature as a "white crow", it does vividly trace the tumultuous events surrounding his decision to defect to the West.

cert 15 themes, language, nudity 18.Oct.18 lff

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© 2018 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall