Film Review: Dancing away from a repressive regime in ‘The White Crow’

A still from ‘The White Crow.’
Updated 08 November 2018
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Film Review: Dancing away from a repressive regime in ‘The White Crow’

  • The movie tells us the dramatic story of the famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to France in 1961
  • An unflinching look at the rigid Soviet political system and how it strangulated personal freedom

TOKYO:The third movie directed by Ralph Fiennes, “The White Crow,” which clinched the Best Artistic Contribution prize at the recent Tokyo International Film Festival, follows his earlier two dramas inspired by English literature. While his debut attempt, “Coriolanus,” was based on Shakespeare’s work, his next, “The Invisible Woman,” fell back on Claire Tomalin’s book on Ellen Ternan, the actress whose secret affair with a much older Charles Dickens provided fodder for gossip in 19th century Britain. “The White Crow” takes us far away to the 1960s Soviet Union, engulfed in dirty Cold War politics.

The movie tells us the dramatic story of the famous ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev, who defected to France in 1961. It takes an unflinching look at the rigid Soviet political system and how it strangulated personal freedom and artistic expression — factors that have not entirely disappeared from today’s world. The film explores Nureyev’s birth on a train in Siberia and his fascination with ballet that his family could ill-afford. His steely resolve — which often gets derailed because of his temper tantrums — helps him master the dance form, although he goes into it late in life.

Played by the renowned Ukrainian dancer Oleg Ivanko, Nureyev, aided by one of the finest teachers of the time, Fiennes’ Pushkin, springs to life with each step, with each move in a narrative that uses flashbacks, though rather clumsily. Nureyev dances with many leading companies before dying from AIDS in 1993. One of the most memorable moments in the movie is a dramatic scene at a Parisian airport in which Nureyev’s Soviet handlers try to stop him from traveling to London. In those vital minutes, his friend Clara Saint (Adele Exarchopoulos) attempts to help him.

Sadly, Exarchopoulos, who with her headscarf resembles Jackie Onassis, appears painfully wooden, something that is not helped by a script that seems to bounce all over the place.

Ralph Fiennes. (AFP)

 


What We Are Reading Today: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

Updated 22 April 2019
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What We Are Reading Today: Air Traffic by Gregory Pardlo

  • The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood

Air Traffic is a courageously written book that chronicles among other things Gregory Pardlo’s complex relationship with members of his family, particularly his father and younger brother.

Gregory Pardlo’s father was one of the thousands of air traffic controllers fired in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. The author examines the ramifications of the episode on his family’s legacy, then expands to consider questions of race, addiction and fatherhood.

Pardlo “is a talented writer and he examines so many issues in this memoir — race, economics, manhood, addiction, family and sibling relationships, marriage and parenthood,” says a review published in goodreads.com. A review published in The New York Times, Janet Maslin said: “The book is centered on the troubled relationship between the author and his father, although it roams freely in many other directions ... Simple description does not do Pardlo’s story justice; only his own sublime words can achieve that.” The review added: “When Pardlo won the Pulitzer in 2015 for his collection Digest, the citation praised his ‘clear-voiced poems that bring readers the news from 21st-century America, rich with thought, ideas and histories public and private.’ Replace the word ‘poems’ with the word “essays,” and you have an apt description of the second part of Air Traffic.”