The White Crow Parent Guide
Art, geopolitics, sex, and intrigue all rolled together in a biopic that is only suitable for adults willing to tolerate some sexual content.
Parent Movie Review
While being interrogated about his protégé’s defection to the West, Alexander Pushkin (Ralph Fiennes) explains that he doesn’t think Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) planned to defect. “I think it’s likely he had an explosion of character. That’s who he is.”
The White Crow devotes its two-hour run time to depicting Nureyev’s “explosion of character”. He is deemed a “white crow” - a Russian idiom for a person who is unusual, extraordinary, and different from others. Unusual Nureyev certainly is – born on a train to a peasant woman from the provinces in 1938, he vaults through the Soviet dancing hierarchy to become one of the USSR’s most famous ballet dancers. And then, on a tour of Europe in 1961, Nureyev defects at the Paris airport.
The film begins with a Soviet investigation into the loss of Nureyev, jumps around through the events of his life, and concludes with tense scene at the airport. And, en route, it illuminates Nureyev’s life and the events and characteristics that put him on the path to life in the West. Nureyev is clearly unsuited to life in a Communist state. Self-confident to the point of arrogance, he is unwilling to sublimate his artistic goals to those of the Soviet bureaucracy, even spitting at one official who insists that he must accept an assignment to dance in a provincial company. And his curiosity, his endless thirst for knowledge and experience, cannot be satisfied in a political system that censors what its citizens read and controls where they travel. When Nureyev says, “I want to be free”, his primary point is not political; he is making an artistic statement. His greatest desire is to dance, in any place and in any way he chooses. And a system which stifles that desire is one in which he cannot flourish.
The White Crow by and large does a good job of telling Nureyev’s story. Ukrainian ballet dancer and novice actor, Oleg Ivenko is able to combine balletic ability with enough acting skill to believably portray the great dancer. And the locations and period details are both immersive and enjoyable. But viewers might find the use of rapidly switching flashbacks annoying. And anyone who dislikes subtitles will want to stay away from this film: several scenes are spoken in Russian.
Anyone considering The White Crow for viewing with teens will want to carefully consider the film’s sexual content. When Nureyev injures his foot in a fall, Xenia Pushkin (Chulpan Khamatova), Alexander’s wife, insists on nursing him back to health. While Nureyev is recovering, Xenia seduces him, rubbing his groin and placing his hand on her breast. Nureyev is a reluctant partner from the outset and his unease grows over time. In a comment that parents will find particularly disturbing, Xenia attempts to soothe Nureyev by saying,“You’re only guilty if you choose to be.” On top of this adulterous relationship, Nureyev is also having a same sex relationship with a German dancer, Teja Kremke (Louis Hofmann). One scene involves a post-coital moment in bed, followed by Kremke getting up and displaying full frontal nudity.
The sexual content will doubtless deter viewers looking for a family friendly experience. And that’s an unfortunate choice on the part of director Ralph Fiennes. For although this film is no extraordinary white crow, it’s a perfectly competent biopic that provides an intriguing look at a great artist trapped in a political prison who chooses to fly free.Directed by Ralph Fiennes. Starring Oleg Ivenko, Ralph Fiennes, and Louis Hofmann. Running time: 127 minutes. Theatrical release May 10, 2019. Updated July 24, 2019
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The White Crow
Rating & Content Info
Why is The White Crow rated R? The White Crow is rated R by the MPAA for some sexuality, graphic nudity, and language.
Violence: A main character yells at a female friend and tells her to sit down and shut up. A man leaves his child alone in the winter woods with nothing but a campfire for warmth. A man yells at visitors to a dance rehearsal and insists they leave. A main character throws his suitcase when he is angry. A main character says that security forces will inject him and kill or imprison him. Soviet agents and French police have a physical altercation. A Soviet agent obliquely threatens to harm the family of a defector.
Sexual Content: A woman screams as she gives birth. Classical nude sculptures are seen with visible genitals. A man sleeps in the nude: his back and part of his buttocks are visible. A main character goes to a club where women are dancing in costumes where the buttocks and breasts have been cut out: nipples are visible. A man spits at a woman when given career orders he dislikes. A married woman seduces an unmarried man: she rubs her hand on his leg and groin and puts his hand inside her dress, on her breast. Later, she removes her dressing gown: her legs are seen and he is shown in bed with his bare chest visible. A man is shown in bed with another man after having sex: one of the men gets out of bed and the audience sees full frontal nudity. Same sex and opposite sex couples are shown dancing closely and kissing on the dance floor.
Profanity: There are a handful of moderate profanities and three uses of the sexual expletive.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Smoking and social drinking throughout. A main character drinks alcohol while under stress and making a big decision.
Page last updated July 24, 2019
The White Crow Parents' Guide
Loved this movie? Try these books…
Julie Kavanagh’s Nureyev: The Life is an exhaustive biography of the famous dancer. Gennady Smakov tells the story of another famous Russian dancer and defector in Baryshnikov: From Russia to the West.
If you are interested in other accounts of defectors, check out Gordon Brook-Shepherd’s The Storm Birds: Soviet Post-War Defectors.
Related home video titles:
The Cold War was a period of great tension between the USA and the Soviet Union. In Bridge of Spies, Tom Hanks plays a lawyer recruited by the CIA to help negotiate the release of a captured American pilot.
White Nights, released in 1985, stars ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov as a Russian dancer who has defected to the West, only to wind up back in the USSR when his plane crashes over Soviet territory.