Ralph Fiennes (director)
05 August 2019 (released)
07 August 2019
This ‘biopic’ chronicling the early days of legendary ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev is a visual treat for all ballet fans whilst not shying away from depicting his constant battles with Russian authorities – ultimately leading to his defection from the Soviet Union. It makes for an interesting and honest portrayal although the constant time-slips between his restricted life back home and his current engagement in 1961 Paris can be a trifle irritating at times.
Directed by Academy Award-nominee Ralph Fiennes in collaboration with BAFTA-winning screenwriter David Hare, Fiennes (in a understated performance) stars as Alexander Pushkin, former dancer and now ballet master who would prove to be Nurejev’s nurturing mentor. Of course, Nurejev (brilliantly performed by dancer/actor Oleg Ivenko) is bound to grow tired of everything that his homeland has to offer, even Pushkin. Flashbacks reveal how he was born on a train and his impoverished upbringing in Ufa, a desolate town in central Russia. We follow his first ballet training in Leningrad under the tutelage of Pushkin though it soon becomes blatantly obvious that Nurejev is a star-in-the-making who hates any kind of authority – be it State-imposed or school-imposed. His ambition, ego and unique approach fascinate and irritate in equal measure, if this portrait is an honest one then Nurejev – like most geniuses – was as selfish and ruthless as he was talented. Constantly at odds with his surroundings and feeling restricted by what his State-sponsored ballet education has to offer, Nurejev gets the nickname ‘The White Crow’ – meaning oddball or outsider in Russian slang, a befitting moniker for someone who really doesn’t fit into the ‘system’ nor does he wish to!
Between an affair with Pushkin’s wife (she didn’t leave him much choice…) and increasing disillusionment over the fact that his eccentricity and ambition will never be fulfilled in the Soviet Union, his first glimpse of freedom arrives when, after having joined the prestigious Kirov Ballet, the company travels to Paris, France, on a tour which is meant to demonstrate the superiority of Soviet culture and above all, dance!
Soon though, Nurejev immerses himself in all the rich culture that Paris has to offer, including studying paintings in its galleries – most notably Rembrandt. He even enjoys an outing to a cabaret. The awkwardness between the Kirov and Western ballet companies is poignantly demonstrated at an after-party during which Nurejev breaks the golden rule of not talking to Westerners… and introduces himself to a group of dancers and socialites who invite him out to dinner, including young heiress Clara Saint (Adéle Exarchopoulos). Soon, Nurejev inhales the Paris nightlife as if it were vital oxygen, much to the chagrin of Kirov ballet minders and even the KGB! Despite several warnings that he oversteps the mark, Nurejev won’t have any of it and continues to soak up the vibrant Parisian atmosphere… which lies in stark contrast to the drab world back home (as demonstrated through distinct colour codes). Just as the members of the Kirov Ballet assemble at the airport to board a flight to London, his ‘babysitter’ reveals that Nurejev won’t be going to London - instead he’s supposed to fly back to the Soviet Union to participate in a high profile State performance. Nurejev smells a rat and is convinced he’ll end up in prison instead, leading up to the film’s tense finale during which he defects to the West in front of everyone – the rest is of course the stuff of legend! As Nurejev sees it, he doesn’t ‘belong’ to any particular country as he was born on a train!