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With: Oleg Ivenko, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Raphaël Peronnaz, Chulpan Khamatova, Sergei Polunin, Calypso Valois, Louis Hoffman, Olivier Rabourdin
Written by: David Hare, based on a book by Julie Kavanagh
Directed by: Ralph Fiennes
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Language: Russian, English, French, with English subtitles
Running Time: 127
Date: 04/26/2019

The White Crow (2019)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Ballet Skipper

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Except maybe for dance fans only, it's unclear what, exactly, we're supposed to make of this portrait of a deeply unpleasant man, arrogant and bullying, whose talent is more spoken of than displayed.

In The White Crow, Russian ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) travels to Paris in 1961 to perform with his troupe. He delights in everything Paris has to offer, and he continues to study and to strive for perfection in his art. In flashbacks, we learn of his stark childhood and his troubled beginnings as a dancer.

We also learn of his complex relationships with teacher Alexander Pushkin (Ralph Fiennes), Pushkin's wife (Chulpan Khamatova), and his friend Clara Saint (Adèle Exarchopoulos). As his time in Paris comes to an end, he is told that he must return to Russia, rather than go on with his troupe to London. He resists and faces a tough decision. Will he defect, and risk never seeing his mother again?

Director and actor Ralph Fiennes — whose previous directorial efforts were Coriolanus and The Invisible Woman — goes to great pains to place an actual dancer (Oleg Ivenko) in the role of Rudolf Nureyev, but then spends the majority of the movie gazing upon his face, and listening to him talk about how great he is and how famous he's going to be, and little time actually watching him dance. Worse, The White Crow doesn't even begin to try to help out non-ballet fans to understand what about these particular dance moves makes him great.

Written by acclaimed playwright David Hare (The Hours, The Reader) takes place in three time periods, with Nureyev as a child — these sequences are in black-and-white — and then in 1955 in Leningrad and 1961 in Paris, which tend to blur together. It becomes confusing to tell precisely where we are in the story, especially because no other characters really come to life. Every other character in the story exists only in relation to Nureyev, and mostly kowtowing to him.

Finally, while Fiennes's performance as the dance teacher is interesting, his direction relies heavily on shaky-cam, which seems to be the exact opposite of a graceful art like the ballet. Perhaps viewers that already know a great deal about Nureyev will get something from The White Crow, but newcomers need not bother.

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