The White Crow
Oleg Ivenko, Adele Exarchopoulos, Ralph Fiennes, Chulpan Khamatova
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The depiction we get of Nureyev, as captured by newcomer Oleg Ivenko, is one of frustrating inconsistency.
No film ends up being about just one thing. Whether a director sets out to capture the life of a single person or an entire planet, the culture wrapped around both the artist and the art end up influencing the final product. Hell, half the fun of watching movies is reading the material between the lines that the filmmakers themselves may not be aware is on the page.
Today’s offering, the latest from master thespian-turned-filmmaker Ralph Fiennes, is ostensibly a biopic about Russian danseur Rudolf Nureyev but is also a look at the political and cultural climate around him. Unfortunately for Fiennes, the latter ends up overshadowing the former, much to the production’s detriment.
The depiction we get of Nureyev, as captured by newcomer Oleg Ivenko, is one of frustrating inconsistency. His background as a dancer lets him glide across the stage when he’s called to do so, but backstage, his position in a story supposedly all about him feels in flux. He fluctuates between rebellious selfishness and wide-eyed wonder, wanting to see as much of the world as he can, when he isn’t actively trying to avoid talking to anyone. In greater hands, this could have worked as showing character depth and complexity, but what we ultimately get is a big switch being thrown, with what we learn about the artist different to what we learn about the art.
This is where things get rather disappointing as, in contrast to the film’s impact as biography, its musings on the nature of art make for quite enticing viewing. Meshing the French attitude towards all things sexual with a traveller’s point-of-view in wanting to experience all art possible, it creates a mood for Nureyev’s journey beyond the Iron Curtain as one of voyeuristic admiration.
Mike Eley’s camera work and Barney Pilling’s editing enforce comparisons between different forms of art, from paintings to sculptures to mosaics to songs to the human body itself. Maybe that’s what attracted Blue Is The Warmest Colour’s Adéle Exarchopoulos to the project: Fiennes actually pulled off comparing nude bodies to sculptures without turning it into exploitative softcore fit for late-night SBS.
And when added to the Soviet influence within the story, cementing Nureyev’s eventual defection not as political but as personal in reaction to the KGB’s attempts to stifle his exploration, it makes for a very rich atmosphere that the core story winds up letting down. Where that gets weirder is with David Hare’s scripting, containing numerous pleas to focus on the story and the emotion behind it, rather than the technique with which it is presented. The exact opposite of what makes this film worth sitting through.
It still makes its point as a work of art, one that insists on the appreciation of other works in turn, and it furthers Fiennes’ aesthetic behind the camera. But in the end, it feels like being in a restaurant where the salad has more flavour than the steak it’s been paired with.