Sometimes in order to crack a movie and totally comprehend what it’s all about, you have to factor in things that you would normally consider irrelevant. For instance, these days someone would consider politics in every movie he watches is exaggerated, but back in the eighties, this was more or less the case. In the ripple of the cold war, Americans and Soviets split the world into two, and there was no movie that didn’t remind us that things were still fragile.
Even though to some, White Nights would simply be considered a drama/dancing movie, someone could read more in it. The plot is more than easy to follow. In the eighties, many artists from the Soviet Union or Eastern Germany deserted their countries, requesting political asylum. This applies to the main character Nikolai Rodchenko, a ballet dancer who deserted the Soviet Union. On his way to perform in Tokyo, his aeroplane crashes somewhere in Siberia. When they recognise him, they keep him in custody with the intention of convincing him to dance for the season’s opening night at the Kirov. In order to make this happen, the KGB orders Raymond Greenwood, an Afro-American tap dancer, to keep an eye on him.
Both come from different backgrounds. After a lot of arguing and insulting each other, they realise that there is something strong that unites them: dancing. Soon enough, a strong friendship grows while escaping becomes their main goal. Their plan is quite simple, they have to find a way to reach the American Embassy and then asylum will be offered to them.
White Nights was Barishnikov’s second movie and his breakthrough film as an actor, after earning his reputation as one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers. The casting of the movie is quite impressive with Gregory Hines, Helen Mirren, Isabella Rossellini and John Glover — but perhaps what made this movie famous was its soundtrack with Lionel Richie winning the Oscar for the song ‘Say You, Say Me’.
Directed by Taylor Hackford (The Devil’s Advocate, Ray) White Nights is a movie that represents its era perfectly, when things were clear. It’s a film that shows an artist’s eagerness to escape towards the liberal west. It shows the depression, the monitored life – but it also shows how one can still perform 11 pirouettes in a row without even breaking a sweat. White Nights proves one thing: that back then, even a seemingly simple and straightforward movie couldn’t be just that. There was always politics involved. But if you choose to leave the political part to the side and not get into it, there is no doubt that this movie should be considered a classic for what it is on the outside.