‘the white crow’: a he-said, she-said film review

Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev, and Ralph Fiennes as his dance teacher star in “The White Crow.”

Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev, and Ralph Fiennes as his dance teacher star in “The White Crow.”


By Tom and Marilyn jozwik

Published May 19, 2019

HE: Dance is my least favorite of the arts, but I have a hunch dance-centric “The White Crow” (named, apparently, to suggest its protagonist’s alienation) will be one of my favorite films of 2019. 

Starring Russian dancer, and acting newcomer, Oleg Ivenko as Rudolf Nureyev, and Ralph Fiennes—who also directed—as Nureyev’s patient teacher Alexander Pushkin, the movie summarizes Nureyev’s story from humble birth aboard a train to defection from Russia to the West in his early 20s, in 1961. I found the film completely engaging … and intellectually exciting in a way those typical (and ever proliferating) action adventure flicks can only hope to be. 

SHE: I agree. The film, surprisingly, kept me engaged and even at the edge of my seat at the end. There seem to be three distinct segments of his life portrayed—including his early childhood with his mother, older sisters and largely absent military father. These scenes are seen in flashback from his stints at a Russian ballet academy and from the time Nureyev and fellow members of the world-famous Kirov Ballet Company performed in Paris. The climax occurs after he is singled out from the company to return to Russia rather than go to London to continue the tour, in a totally riveting sequence. 

HE: You’re entirely correct, the conclusion is riveting. “The White Crow” was filmed in St. Petersburg and Paris; the cinematographer has done a fine job capturing interesting aspects of those places. The movie jumps from black and white to color, from spoken English to Russian-with-subtitles, from its subject’s early boyhood to late adolescence to adulthood, and does so seamlessly, more characteristic of European than American cinema. Realistically the viewer sees a man who helped revolutionize ballet in a warts and all portrait: he was, admirably, a risk-taker and an individual more than comfortable in his own skin (not to mention immensely talented), but he also was supercilious and the kind of person about whom it can be said, “With friends like him, who needs enemies?” I might add that this fuller characterization contributes to the film’s being as compelling as it is. 

SHE: Nureyev definitely does not come off as anything resembling a nice guy. In fact, you might say he was a bully. He knew what he wanted and how to get it, which the movie shows so well. The Cold War era setting really adds to the drama of the film, as does the superb acting, including that of Fiennes, Ivenko, and Adele Exarchopoulos as Nureyev’s loyal friend  (to whom Nureyev can be less than friendly) in Paris. 

HE: Well said. My grade would be a solid A. About my only complaint is that the movie ended more than 30 years shy of Nureyev’s AIDS-related death in 1993. 

SHE: I would give it an A—