This review was originally published as part of our London Film Festival coverage on 19/10/18.
The White Crow has to walk a tricky line between period drama and dance movie – think Step Up 2: The Soviets. It’s all in the execution, and thankfully Crow is more graceful than that joke. Following the rise of legendary danseur Rudolf Nureyev and his defection from the Soviet Union in 1961, the film is sumptuous in its depiction of ballet during the time period.
Of course, a plié is only as good as the performer, and The White Crow’s success rests solely upon its lead. Oleg Ivenko turns between earnest charm and thoughtless arrogance on a dime. Most importantly, the man can DANCE. It’s no mean feat/feet, stepping into the shoes of the original Lord of the Dance, but Ivenko slips into Rudolf Nureyev’s slippers with ease. For his first feature, it’s clear that the dancer-turned-actor is one to watch.
As one future star takes the spotlight, a legend steps behind the camera. This is Ralph Fiennes’ third directorial feature – although his first where he doesn’t take the lead. Taking the minor role of ballet master Alexander Pushkin, Fiennes is softly spoken as the quiet commander of the cabriole. The White Crow is bookended by Pushkin, and his understatement anchors the film’s melodic quality.
While Fiennes underplays his small role, his direction possesses less subtlety. While his love of the ballet is plastered across the screen, his Soviet Union is all trench coat conspiracy and windswept tundra. Flashbacks to Nureyev’s childhood are particularly on the nose, as Fiennes frames a childhood in poverty quite literally in black and white.
In the end, The White Crow reflects its protagonist: “What you do is not technically perfect. Sometimes it’s even clumsy. But the spirit is perfect.” The White Crow flies along a beautiful aria, buoyed by a graceful score and the elegance of the ballet.
CAST: Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, Louis Hofmann, Adèle Exarchopoulos
DIRECTOR: Ralph Fiennes
WRITERS: David Hare (screenplay), Julie Kavanagh (book)
SYNOPSIS: The story of Rudolf Nureyev’s defection to the West.