Who wants to break free (The White Crow movie review)

Rudolf Nuriejew was a rebel in ballet shoes that had tricked the USSR. He was born in 1983 on the Trans-Siberian Railway, signed up for the ballet school in spite of his father’s warnings and protest, and then, ignoring more or less serious injuries and failures, stormed the tops of Russian ballets and became a dancing celebrity in a leotard whose fame can be compared with the legend of Vaclav Nijinsky. The rebellious artist was a salt in an eye of communist authorities and against their will had started the international career. Other dancer envied his talent and charisma, his compatriots – freedom. “The White Crow”, biographical movie directed by Ralph Fiennes, tells the dramatic and inspiring story of one of the greatest ballet dancers of all times. Unfortunately, the film is not as thrilling and spirited as the legend, but it remains a decent biographical picture that will be the most interesting for those who don’t know much about the dancing icons.
The biography of Rudolf Nuriejew is material for at least several interesting action movies or a 3-season-long TV series. The director focuses however on first 23 years of his life and tries to show behind the scenes of the birth of the legend of a defiant and genius dancer, who forever changed the face of the ballet world and, thanks to his unusual temperament, entered the canon of pop culture icons. Fiennes, when telling the story of the titled white crow, at the same time tells the story of totalitarianism and its tools of disciplining and controlling people on the one hand and of creating its own great narration on the other hand. In this context the story of Nuriejew becomes a kind of allegory of both – the system and its manipulative potential and of rebellious individual that go beyond rules and frees himself from the influence of totalitarian mind.
In 1961, a 23-year-old Russian, unknown outside of the hermetic microcosm of ballet, appeared on the headlines of the most important magazines. He came to Paris to perform in front of the French audience, which was a part of The USSR propaganda program. They sent their best dancers to the West just two week after Yuri Gargarin flew into space. The Sowiet power had to be demonstrated to the world, hadn’t it?
But the scenario didn’t go as planned. Those headlines weren’t about the incredible greatness of Russian dance, but were announcing a very different story that was unmasking the oppressiveness of the totalitarian reality. The sensation was caused by Nuriejew who, just before boarding a plane flying back to Moscow, broke free from the hand of KGB agents that were guarding him and asked the French policemen for political asylum.
The story of Nuriejew in Fiennes’s movie is organized by different tensions provoked by the dependences between a citizen and his/her country. The protagonist is with permanent conflict with the Soviet reality that suffocates him, but his hunger for life and inability to submit to the expectations of others (not only his homeland, but also of his friends and women) suggest that he has an anarchic soul that would provoke conflict with any other authority. Another interesting thread of the movie is dedicated to the social (caring) role of the state. The very same country that oppresses Nuriejew and remains a threat to his freedom is also the country that had educated him, gave him space to develop his art and pulled him out of the city in in the middle of Kazakh nowhere onto the stages of Paris.
I think that the biggest problem with Fiennes’s movie lies in the fact that the director chooses from the dancer’s story of all of those elements that are easy to be composed in a catchy story about the birth of a great artist. Even when painting his protagonist’s character, the director uses the most used schemes and creates a tale about genius that is extremely egoistic and this lack of empathy and altruism becomes a clue to his success. I wish Fiennes at least had tried telling different story.