Film review: The White Crow's dancing is on pointe but drama not so sure footed
THE WHITE CROW (12A, 127 mins) Drama/Romance. Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Chulpan Khamatova, Adele Exarchopoulos, Raphael Personnaz, Sergei Polunin. Director: Ralph Fiennes
Released: March 22 (UK & Ireland)
OSCAR-nominated actor Ralph Fiennes ventures behind the camera for the third time to dramatise the rise of Soviet Union ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev and his 1961 defection to the west.
Interspersed with colour-bleached flashbacks, The White Crow is a beautifully poised study of creative genius in flux and the meticulously choreographed dance sequences are on pointe.
David Hare's sombre and respectful script pirouettes back and forth in time to dizzying effect. Consequently, dramatic momentum loses its sure footing early into the excessive 127-minute running time.
Nureyev's notorious outbursts are tastefully diluted to a few choice scowls and, surprisingly, the film doesn't clearly verbalise why the dancer took the anguished decision to abandon his fiercely protective homeland.
Too much is left unsaid despite a solid, muscular performance from Russian dancer Oleg Ivenko, who makes his feature film debut as Nureyev and speaks in both English and his native language.
Fiennes's picture opens on a Trans-Siberian train in 1938 where a baby boy is welcomed into the world in humble and chaotic surroundings. At the age of 17, Rudolf (Ivenko) is taken under the wing of revered dance instructor Alexander Ivanovich Pushkin (Fiennes).
Rudolf is self-confident to the point of arrogance, boasting that it will not take long until everyone knows his name.
Pushkin's wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova) invites the cocksure dancer to stay at their apartment during his tutelage and manipulates the situation to seduce Rudolf behind the back of her unsuspecting husband. However, Rudolf's appetite is not restricted to women and he kindles a smouldering desire for fellow dancer Yuri (Sergei Polunin).
In 1961, Nureyev travels to Paris with members of the Kirov Ballet. It is the first time since the Cold War that the company has performed in the west and security is tight.
Nureyev defies the edicts of his KGB handlers to savour the seductive delights of the capital in the company of French dancer Pierre Lacotte (Raphael Personnaz) and his friend Clara Saint (Adele Exarchopoulos).
By chance, Clara is a close acquaintance of the French minister of cultural affairs, who could oil bureaucratic cogs and facilitate a claim for political asylum.
The brutal tug of war between east and west culminates in a tense finale at Le Bourget Airport in Paris, where Nureyev attempts to slip from the grasp of his minders with the international media swirling around the departures hall.
The White Crow is a handsomely crafted biographical drama, which lacks that all-important pas de deux with the lead character's inner turmoil as he musters courage to defect. Supporting performances show similar artful restraint.
At its very best, dance conveys powerful, raw emotion through movement and gesture. Fiennes's impressive picture repeatedly holds back when we ache for it to cut loose.