Ralph Fiennes (director)
22 March 2019 (released)
22 March 2019
An interesting rather than absorbing film about the remarkable ballet genius Rudolf Nureyev and his early days up to his defection to the west in 1961. Also remarkable is Ralph Feinne’s Russian playing dance teacher Alexander Pushkin in an odd performance that is low key but suits a strange personality who for all Nureyev’s faults – some very close to Pushkin’s home - saw the germ of genius in the rough and ready student.
The film has three strands childhood – Nureyev was born on a trans-Siberian train – his training in the then Leningrad and the tour of France where he finally defected. This actually works quite well with the early years shot almost in monochrome and widescreen ratio. The film changes to standard ratio and a searing full colour palate as he trains and then heads for France.
Portraying a temperamental individual Oleg Ivenko gives a very strong performance of an almost possessed man who knew he had a place in the world. His talent was not in question though it flowed from a desperately flawed person whose arrogance was beholden to no one and so was capable of great cruelty. Take the scene with the mourning heiress, the well-connected Clara Saint, (Adèle Exarchopoulos) whom he had befriended after an introduction. Friendship or not it doesn’t stop him utterly humiliating her in a restaurant over a trifling matter.
There’s a hint of mental imbalance too when he confronts the head of dance school about his presence at rehearsal. But there is weakness as he’s manipulated by Pushkin’s wife Xenia (Chulpan Khamatova). Then there is the ambiguity about his sexuality as he wanders around the Louvre looking at the perfect male marble studies contrasting as director Fiennes juxtaposes these with Nureyev’s torso by a window, or when he gets too close to a male colleague. It’s not exactly subtle stuff but then neither was Nureyev, complex yes.
As beautifully written by David Hare as it is, its brutal on Nureyev who cuts a decidedly unsympathetic character. And even if you are supposed to cut geniuses some slack, it really is very hard to do so here. In fact there’s more sympathy for his state minders who having lost the dancer to the west would be dreading returning to the east and facing the authorities there.