Rudi is a dancer and he’s pretty good at that ballet. In fact you might have heard of him. Yes, we’re back in biopic territory and ladies and gentlemen, here’s Rudolph Nureyev.
Rudi is born in poverty in a train going through Siberia. Which may account for the amount of time he spends looking for a model of the Trans-Siberian express. Buying train sets is not out of character for a man who spends most of the time in sulky petulance, throwing his toys out of the metaphorical pram.
The film switches regularly and for no apparent reason between three different time periods – Rudi’s early life, his time at ballet school and 1961 when the 23-year old goes with the Kirov ballet to Paris. In some films. swapping between different periods of someone’s life can be illuminating in drawing out specific character traits. In this case, it just makes everything way more confusing than it needs to be.
We see lots of scenes of performances and rehearsals of dancing which might be of interest to ballet connoisseurs, of which I am definitely not one. To me, the dancing was workmanlike and if you’re looking for some pictures of people practising ballet, this may be the film for you. But the dancing is never exciting enough (in contrast to some film over the closing credits of what I presume is the young Nureyev, which is effortless in its elegance).
Since we’re not really convinced of the godlike genius of Nureyev as a dancer, when he strops round Paris in a permanent hissy fit he doesn’t demand our sympathy and you just feel that someone should just give him a good slap and tell him to behave.
It all leads up to a great moment of tension at Paris’s Le Bourget airport. Nureyev has decided to defect, but he is being minded by a pair of burly thugs with Rooshian accents, and he will only be granted asylum if he approaches the French police. It is all quite exciting in the way of 1950s Cold War films (which aren’t made as often as they used to because (a) the format was always fairly conservative and (b) hey, the Cold War ended thirty years ago if you didn’t notice).
Except that my mind kept wandering and saying “this is a biopic of Rudolph Nureyev. You know, the famous ballet dancer who defected?” You can only wonder what’s going to happen so much when you know exactly what’s going to happen.
One extra point: director Ralph Fiennes bravely (and IMHO correctly) has actors using the languages that their characters would use in real life. So Russians speak to each other in Russian, French people converse in French, and that’s perfectly fine. Where its less optimal is where actors (some of whom have been chosen for the part more for their dancing than their acting ability) talk to each other in the second or third language of English. It isn’t helped by the fairly stilted script (what went wrong, David Hare?)
There is no point where you think “this is a bad film”. It is well filmed and most individual scenes are well done, even if they’re not necessarily in the right order. But it starts to drag from quite early on and really doesn’t have to be so long. Its good for a film to be ambitious, but sometimes you need a little more than just that.