In “The White Crow,” actor-and-director Ralph Fiennes takes on the task of re-creating the blazing dance talent of Rudolf Nureyev — and produces a movie as temperamental, and sometimes as enigmatic, as its subject.
Nureyev, Fiennes and screenwriter David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Reader”) suggest, was a man constantly in motion. He was even born, in 1938, on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, a rail line that fascinated him all his life. Growing up in a small village in the Soviet Union, he knew he was destined to go places — and as a headstrong young dance student in Leningrad (played by Ukrainian dancer and first-time movie actor Oleg Ivenko), he thinks those places will be London and Paris, as a ballet superstar.
His technique doesn’t match his talent and energy, and after rejecting one teacher as too rigid, he finds a more suitable mentor in the former dancer Alexander Pushkin (played by Fiennes). Pushkin subtly guides the young Nureyev, urging him to think not just about the moves but the story, not just how he dances but why.
Nureyev’s training sessions are intercut with his successes with the Kirov Ballet, which sometimes ventured out of the Soviet Union. In Paris, Nureyev bends and sometimes flouts the rules about curfew and fraternizing with Western artists, and even starts a friendship and possible romance with Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a socialite who has connections to the French minister of culture. The Kirov’s manager and government minder, Strizhevsky (Aleksey Morozov), warns Nureyev that the headstrong dancer’s actions may get him in trouble with Khrushchev’s regime.
Clara and Strizhevsky are supporting players in the movie’s thrilling climax, on June 16, 1961, when Nureyev defected to the West at the Paris airport. (This isn’t a spoiler; it’s hinted at in the movie’s first scenes.) Hare’s script also delves into Nureyev’s sex life, including relationships with male dancers, and an affair with Pushkin’s wife, Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova).
Fiennes opted to have most of his actors perform the bulk of their dialogue in Russian, which adds to the tension of Nureyev’s alienation and Cold War sacrifices. Ivenko gives a rugged performance as the mercurial Nureyev, whose emotions are never so direct as when he’s expressing them through his dancing. It’s a performance that soars even when this grim Cold War story sometimes drags.
‘The White Crow’
Opened April 26 in select cities; opens Friday, May 24, at the Broadway Centre Cinemas (Salt Lake City) and Megaplex Jordan Commons (Sandy). Rated R for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language. Running time: 127 minutes; in English and Russian with subtitles.