213 of 220 people found the following review helpful
on June 13, 2001
Frankly, I don't see why everybody is so up in arms about the quality of this movie. I, for one, don't need to preface my review with a disclaimer that only its dance sequences can be enjoyed. I happen to think that it's a pretty excellent cinematographic work overall. Let me elaborate.
The camera work here is among the most original and clever out there. It's incredibly dynamic and energetic, offering unusual perspectives, delivering great close-ups, and skillfully capturing the sweeping wide spaces. An unusually large amount of footage is devoted to the city landscapes of St. Petersburg - a rarity in American flicks on Russian themes. It's all the more jarring, however, that despite attempts to ensure authenticity of the setting, at least the first couple of car rides seem to have been done in a stationary vehicle and plastered rather crudely against the city background. But this is a forgivable and almost charming flaw, considering the film's limited budget and the release year of 1985.
The film is a paradox of sorts, showcasing interesting performances from Rossellini and Hines, two actors who have since been totally under-appreciated. There's good chemistry between the impressionable and high-strung duet of Darya and Raymond. Jerzy Skolimovski (Colonel Chaiko) is the classical cunning villain with a Slavic flare. Baryshnikov himself seems a bit rigid and somewhat formulaic as Nikolay Rodchenko. That is when he's not dancing, of course. For when he dances, he unleashes all imaginable and unimaginable potential.
Obviously, the story line is sketched out in broad, exaggerated strokes. But I bet the filmmakers actually expected the overall theatricality to be taken with a grain of salt. Besides, the subject matter discussed wasn't keen on subtleties. The events depicted were behind-the-scenes operations all right, but they were as blunt and theatrically bizarre as can be. And as for those who think the circumstances and emotions of the dissidence and emigration (or defection in this case) experience are overblown - brush up on mid-20th century history and get a grip on things. Not only had the Big Brother's machinery of state control and suppression been well oiled for decades in the Soviet Union and its satellites, but the shadow of this absurd, merciless beast hangs over many of those nations still. Folks, the fictionalized account of Nikolay Rodchenko is merely a _slightly_ glamorized and dramatized version of real life experience of countless victims of the era.
The scenes of Nikolay and Darya fleeing through the deserted streets of Leningrad and the subsequent humiliation they experience in front of the American embassy send chills down my spine every time I watch the movie. That threat and that danger are very real to me even though my emigration experience in the 1990s was simply peachy in retrospect and comparison. Just as disturbing and sobering, by the way, is Rodchenko's reception by the Americans and the so-called international community inside the gates. He to them is but a nimble exotic specimen...
Anyhow, let me dismount my high horse and reiterate, seconding the earlier reviews, that "White Nights" features superb, matchless dancing; and, to miss it is a deathly sin. Well, almost...
There are essentially four dance highlights in the movie. Choreography is mainly by Baryshnikov, Hines, and, very importantly, Twyla Tharp. Baryshnikov's duet with Florence Faure in the opening credits is bound to leave your breathless. It is sheer perfection - immensely inventive and impeccably executed. The second instance when you'll forget that you could blink and breathe is during the 11 rubles for 11 pirouettes number. He does it with a godly effortlessness. Hines' and Baryshnikov's dance studio number is fascinating to watch. And, then... Then, there's Mikhail's solo to Vysotsky's tape on the stage of the Kirov theatre. Its beauty is literally painful and words can never describe it.
If you haven't seen "White Nights" or have seen it only once, you're denying yourself an unearthly pleasure. And you can snicker at my high-flown sighs and exclamations all you want :)
42 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on June 16, 2004
Baryshnikov does eleven pirouettes straight. What more can you ask for? Anyway, the movie was very good. It was a dark, communist Soviet Union film, with a lot of tension. But most importantly, Gregory Hines and Mikhail Baryshnikov were fantastic. It is superhuman what they can do.
70 of 78 people found the following review helpful
on September 29, 2002
Don't tell me , that this is for dancing funs only ! I use to be professional break dancer , enjoied the exellent " dance " parts in the film ... but I watched it for the story , not the intertainment !
Michail Barishnikov's character is a " deserter " from Russia . He is on the flight to Europe and after big mechanical problems during the flight , the plane had to land in USSR . He is in panic ... and later we understand , why ! KGB wanted to make example out of him , so others will not follow ...
Put on top of it exellent scenaries of Leningrad , 3rd most beatifull city in Europe ... I was lucky to be born there , and I lived there too , for most of my life .
And it is not only about the plot in this movie - to set yourself free ... from russian KGB , from the past... If you don't speak Russian , you don't know the meaning of the song by Vladimir Visotskiy ... Let me go my horses ... Let me go ... set me free ..! The song , which became a grave monument for one of the greatest ,honest russian singers and actors ... he never surrended . But he still alive in his work... in our harts .
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2005
Taylor Hackford took the premise of juxtaposing two premiere dancers and their two differing styles and made a taut little melodrama that explores the theme of freedom of expression in art, relationships and politics. Is ballet more free than tap? Does Hines have an 'open' marriage with Isabella Rosselini in the film? And what about those Soviets, and the funders for dance companies in the west, controlling who does what? But to return to reality, freedom could also apply to the wonderfully fluid camera used to record the dance sequences.
Enjoy the view of Roland Petit's "Le Jeune Homme et La Morte" and Baryshnikov's famous "pas de deux with a chair" (finally captured on film)as an almost participant, and the two self-choreographed studio sequences of Baryshnikov and Hines with a camera that moves as quickly over, below, and above the dancers as the dancers themselves. Having seen Baryshnikov live several times (once with the Kirov, then ABT, and from backstage wings once or twice), I had no problem guessing the outcome of that ruble/pirouette bet. So glory in the dance sequences and the views of two masters at work, and an enterprising and creative director with a political heart. (Who later did a similar romantic triangle in politicized setting with "Proof of Life".)
RE ACTING: Since Baryshnikov was playing elements of his past, it was not too big a stretch. (He scared his young daughter, Alexandra, when she viewed the airplane crash scene.) But the sequence where he visited the dance school and they had no idea who he was because the Soviets tried to make sure newer generations forgot, was a real worry at the time. Luckily, Baryshnikov's artistry lives on in several films/tapes so younger generations can see what the legend is all about. How many past performers/performances miss out that chance at a posterity other than words. Live is nice, but capture the great at least once on film/tape for future generations please.
Hines and the supporting cast had all acted much before, and again had no problem. Interesting comment about the foreign accents, Smolinowski is Polish I believe, and Helen Mirren (though of Russian extraction and able to speak the language) is English--and later the wife of director Hackford.
LOCATION: Portugal subbed for inside the Marynski Theatre. Finland for Hines' russian hometown and some exteriors. And stock footage of course for St. Petersburg. Wonderful editing with that on the drives through the city, and of course, in the dance sequences.
Overall, smile at the plot, and enjoy the dance.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 6, 2004
the beauty,grace, and syncronozation of these two men dancing from such different backgrounds and styles was magnificent. The love, trust, and faith under such difficult situations was indescribable. The story with its action and psychological background kept me riveted to the screen (5 OR SIX TIMES OR MORE!) When do I order my dvd?!!!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2003
Regardless of any opinion on the story or acting, both are irrellevant. Two of the greatest artists of all time portray on screen exactly that. The perfection of an art that started in France and Italy but was refined by Russia, BALLET- meets one of the few American born arts, TAP. These two performers in Baryshnikov and the late Gregory Hines held me to complete admiration. I wish the world was as passionate about life as these two amazing men are! Watch the movie, I gaurantee you appreciate it!
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2006
I love it that this is out in DVD so everyone can watch it over and over to see how these dancers work out and get in shape and see their joy in dancing. I was amazed at Baryshnikov's flexibility, when he does the splits on the floor, against the wall, and the strength of the jumps of both dancers. Hines' footwork was really beautiful, too. Being a dance devotee, I am always very impressed with the way dancers work so hard, and you could see it here. The movie had a fun plot that was serious, too. You knew it would end up okay but it made you think. The music was excellent and upbeat, too, as well as the scenes of Russia and the theater. I'm happy to have this in my permanent collection, because it's really a classic for dance fans.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2007
Taylor Hackford's "White Nights" is definitely one of my favorite movies ever. I signed up like two years ago to be notified of the release of this movie on DVD and bought it right away when it became available on Amazon. Nikolai Rodchenko (Mikhail Baryshnikov) is a young and somewhat spoiled Russian ballet legend whose multiple successes in his motherland couldn't match his need for freedom and a life outside the unbearable perennial watch of the Soviet communist regime. So he chooses to defect to the United States where he becomes a major celebrity at the height of the Cold War tensions between the two countries. When traveling from London to Tokyo for a series of presentations, Rodchenko's plane malfunctions and is forced to perform an emergency landing on Russian soil. Nikolai will eventually be caught by the KGB and taken secretly back to Leningrad despite protests from the West. Being as he is, a glory of the Russian ballet, Rodchenko is forced to stay in the URSS and to resume his life as usual. He is put under strict surveillance by the KGB and assigned an accompanying couple, the Greenwood's, who are supposed to inform Rodchenko's whereabouts 24/7 to the soviet intelligence. Raymond Greenwood (Gregory Hines) is an African American tap dancer who tired of living a life of struggle for social and economic betterment in the U.S., voluntarily chose to very publicly "defect" to the URSS in opposition to the War in Vietnam. However flashy his "defection" was -and utterly publicized by the Russians- years have passed and Raymond is now just limited to small performances in little towns around Siberia, still living the life of an underprivileged man, but in the URSS. He married Darya (Isabella Rossellini), a Russian girl who loves him adoringly but who also, to much of her dismay, sometimes cannot hold up against Raymond's frustrations and personal demons. Interaction between Nikolai and Raymond becomes the main subject of the film and Nikolai will make Raymond realize how limited and hopeless life is in the URSS and eventually the three of them will seek a way to return to the United States. The film shows beautiful moving scenes such as the one where a drunk Raymond opens himself up to Nilokai in a heartfelt tap-dance-backed-up monologue, giving an impressively moving and honest performance. It shocks me everytime I watch it. Or my other favorite dancing scene, where Nilokai meets his former lover Galina Ivanova (Helen Mirren) at the stage of the Kirov Theater. Galina has now become a prominent figure of the Soviet Ballet nomenklatur. Together they will reminish about past love and life, and dancing to the passionate lyrics of Vladimir Vysotsky a famous Russian protest poet-singer, Nikolai will desperately and hopelessly try to explain her (and perhaps once more, also to himself) why he had to leave his whole life behind. In the process, he will also try to ease the inner pain of longing for his roots, history and identity. Dancing sequences performed by Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines (both solos and as an ensemble) are incredibly moving and beautiful. Choreographies are Baryshnikov's, Hines's and even there is an incredibly moving opening segment choreographed by Twayla Tharp "The young man and the death" performed by Baryshnikov himself and Florence Faure who will leave you speechless. The music is great (I particularly remember the sticky rhythmic beat of "My love is chemical" by Lou Reed). Despite the obvious age that the picture shows "White Nights" is a beautiful movie, with spectacular dancing sequences, definitely worth watching. Personally to me it is certainly a pity that the whole story is still as appealing as it was twenty years ago. Forced migration was certainly an issue back then in 1985 as it continues to be today. Still in 2007 there are people who are virtually obligated to migrate from their own countries when civil liberties are not in force or about to perish. Just turn your head and watch the horrific example of Cuban "balseros", people who prefer to risk their lives in shark-infected waters seeking the coast of Florida instead of living a freedomless life of craving and need under the communist regime of Fidel Castro. So yes, in a time of a suppousedly "end of ideologies", "White Nights" is a movie that has a well established political posture and yet is also undeniably interesting and moving to watch and enjoy time and time again.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2002
Sure, it is a bit dated but the dancing is fantastic and the plot isn't too bad either. Hines and Baryshnikov are great together and Helen Mirren has a very convincing Russian accent. I just wish it was available on DVD!
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 1, 2006
This is the first review I have ever written, that is how strongly I feel about this movie. I first watched this movie in the theater when I was 15. I must have watched it 5 times alltogether. I was mesmorized by the dance sequences. I didn't know how mere mortals could soar and spin even though "this is not ice skating". The story was also gripping and compelling. I have waited for so long for this to come out on DVD and it's finally here. I also thought it had an incredible soundtrack. A must see.