Apparently, I really enjoy films about ballet. The White Crow (2018) is directed by Ralph Fiennes, and is a biopic about Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) – who is considered to be on of the best ballet dancers by many – and his defection from the Soviet Union to the West. I knew nothing about Rudolf before coming to this film, and I found the story to be quite compelling – largely in part to the various narrative threads of his life being woven together over time in a non-linear fashion.
The White Crow depicts the life of Rudolf Nureyev, and it’s an interesting one.
The film is structured with three major time periods in Rudolf’s life: as a child, during his early years joining the Mariinsky Theater, and during the tour with the dance company to Paris in 1961. The story moves back and forth among these three sections of the dancer’s life, showing parallels, dedication, and – most importantly – his often cruel demeanor. The last thread is the most important, as his desire to be the best seems to put him at odds with many people he encounters over his life.
The White Crow is Ivenko’s acting debut, and he performs wonderfully. Ivenko was chosen because of his dance ability (which isn’t on display enough in this film) but the scenes that are included are outstanding. In fact, my favorite sequences in this film are those where Ivenko is able to demonstrate his ability to dance. That isn’t to take away from Ivenko’s ability to act, however, as he manages to be both charming and an asshole at times. It wouldn’t be surprising to both like and hate Rudi by the end of this film. A large part of that is Ivenko’s presence in the movie, and his ability to be undeniably cold and yet still feel like someone you would want to know.
There are other members of the cast who give memorable performances. Fiennes plays a dance teacher, Pushkin, who helps Rudi early on. His wife (Chulpan Khamatova) and Pushkin take special care of Rudi, and the dynamic between the three requires a bit of performance from all three actors.
Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a major character in Rudi’s time in Paris. The two have solid chemistry, and the film depicts how the two became quick friends. In fact, it is this friendship that puts Rudi in many of the bad situations with the KGB, as they doubt his loyalty as he continues to rebel against the rules.
I found Rudi’s story to share themes that I often find hard to resist. His drive makes him an outsider from the people who are most passionate about ballet, but it is also what makes him so great. The friends he manages to find really mean something to him, and that is what makes him likable. There are a few of the paint-by-number biopic moments, but the story makes this feel unique. The White Crow earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.