There are desperate folk where the sun wears no cloak
And the nights are as light as the day.
People come with a grudge and they rarely will budge
Since they’ve no other choice but to stay.
There are pasts black as pitch, a few poor and some rich,
But they’re all the same on that plateau,
Where they’ve all lost their rights to the land where the nights
Are as bright and as white as the snow.
There are desperate men in their self-assigned pen,
And they do what they must to escape,
As they muse in disgrace how they came to this place,
Where the sun never leaves the landscape.
MPAA rating: PG-13
It seems I’ve been neglecting my dear VC, not having reviewed one of her picks for well over a month. To fix that, she had me revisit a film I saw years ago and only remembered certain scenes. I thought my memories were more vague, but watching the movie brought them all back so I guess it was more memorable than I thought. With a title referring to Siberia’s lack of sunset, White Nights is unique as both a Cold War thriller and a musical combining two dancers-turned-actors with different specialties, tap dancer Gregory Hines and ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov.
When I say it’s a musical, that doesn’t mean people break into song at random moments, but since both of its main characters are performers, they each get to strut their stuff on stage throughout the film. Baryshnikov’s character of Nikolai Rodchenko is practically autobiographical, a famed ballet dancer who defects from the Soviet Union. When his plane crash-lands in Siberia, he is taken into custody by the Soviets, who task disillusioned American defector Raymond Greenwood (Hines) with convincing Nikolai to voluntarily serve Soviet interests, whether he likes it or not.
This is a case where it feels that the movie was made just to team up two talented dancers, employing a Cold War plot meant to keep it timely. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but let’s just say the dance scenes are far more memorable than the Soviet intrigue. Hines gets to show off his talents as dancer, singer, and actor, with some personal theatrics that make his conflicted character sympathetic, though they don’t quite convince us why the heck he would pick the U.S.S.R. over the U.S. He has surprising chemistry with Isabella Rossillini as his wife, as does Baryshnikov with Helen Mirren as his ex-lover, so there’s little negative I can say about the acting.
Likewise, the musical numbers are marvelous, from Baryshnikov’s modern dance opener (Le Jeune Homme et la Mort) to Hines’ tap rendition of “There’s a Boat Dat’s Leavin’ Soon for New York” from Porgy and Bess. The real kickers are when the two let loose freestyle in the ballet studio, though I do wish those scenes were longer. Yet, despite the great dancing and decent tension toward the end, I feel that I could just as well have watched the musical highlights and skipped the occasionally boring scenes in between, just as I can enjoy Lionel Richie’s Oscar-winning song “Say You, Say Me” or the also-nominated “Separate Lives” sung by Phil Collins with or without the movie to which they’re attached.
While my VC probably won’t be pleased with my ranking, White Nights is simply not one of my favorites, despite the pleasure of seeing two very different dancers collaborating with some athletic and complementary choreography. It’s a decent film all around, and I’m struggling to find much negative to say about it, but it’s one I’d probably only watch when she insists.
Best line: (Nikolai) “I see. You and your wife, you work in the theater. And you live here… in Siberia.” (Raymond) “It’s just temporary.” (Nikolai, dryly) “Of course. Nobody is here permanently.”
VC’s best line: (Nikolai) “You’re an important person, with power. I hear you drive a Mercedes now.” (Ivanova, played by Mirren) “And what do you ride, Kolya? A donkey? Yes, I rebuilt my life! I was supposed to throw everything away so that you could live in Disneyland?”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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