Must-See Movie Review: 'Bolshoi' Brilliantly Showcases Ballet

Bolshoi Bolshoy Anna Isaeva Karina Kurnikova
Ballet is brutal. A discipline that requires athletic endurance and artistic poise. For those who grew up taking a class or two, there is one ballet that you most assuredly heard discussed with the highest esteem by instructors -- the Bolshoi Ballet. It does not get more elite than their ballerinas, and the film “Bolshoi” depicts why.

The movie crisscrosses in between the formative years of Yulya. As a kid, her in-your-face audition lands her a spot studying at the famous Moscow ballet school. “Bolshoi” accordingly chronicles Yulya’s younger years (played by Ekaterina Sqamuilina) and Margarita Simonova in her twenties. Each timeline portraying a unique and biting insight into a complex character.

Yulya garners the support of Beleckaya (Alisa Freyndlikh), a power player with the ballet who mentors and supports Yulya to no end throughout “Bolshoi.” A complicated teacher/student relationship ensues. Yulya never entirely appreciates the opportunity she gets, and her teacher ends up on the receiving end of that attitude.

Yulya's backstory and background are gradually explained throughout the film. However, a full understanding of her life does not come into focus until the very end. “Bolshoi” moves between past and present with a tremendous finesse that makes the transitions flow with the grace of a ballerina's arms. Every scene provides another piece to the elaborate puzzle.

Make no mistake about it. “Bolshoi” is a character study and an incredibly enthralling one. Yulya is far from a cookie-cutter lead protagonist too. She annoys, frustrates, and sometimes draws complete ire (at least in my case). Countering that is her tenacity and spunk, which makes her appealing. It is a portrait that spotlights her flaws and makes her feel all the more human.

“Bolshoi” does not just study Yulya. It also dives into Yulya's friend and rival, Karina (Anna Isaeva, pictured above), who, unlike Yulya, is from a wealthy background. She is dedicated and arguably values her place at the dance school more than Yulya. Hers and Yulya's relationship spans back to childhood. They are vying for the same thing and yet remain good friends.

There is always an air of rivalry to their relationship, which gives “Bolshoi” the dramatic edge of “Rush” and other sports dramas. They push each other further than they may have otherwise been. In exploring Yulya and Karina’s dynamic, “Bolshoi” investigates innate talent, ambition, the drive of competition, support of a mentor, and belief in one’s self.

Like the introverted world of figure skating, ballet exists behind a veil. There is a fevered world lying beyond the glittery costumes, sensational spins, amazing artistry, and athletic skill. “Bolshoi” delves into every angle that comprises it with Valery Todorovsky’s marvelous direction savoring each beat.

The competition, the rivalry, the perfection, and the zeal for the spotlight. If there is only one issue that this viewer has with the film, it is that it comes to an end. There is so much material to unpack that it could have lasted six hours and still been left with things to do. “Bolshoi” is that intricate of a story.

“Bolshoi” offers an exhilarating peek into the ballet world that viewers got to see via New York City in the fantastic classic “Center Stage” and the Starz series, “Flesh and Bone.” On that note, the Russian-language film is everything I had hoped “Black Swan” would be. Ballet is an intoxicating universe filled with strong personalities and insatiable imagery. To go behind the curtain, even just a bit, is exciting.

“Bolshoi” brings all of it to life in a way that subtlety captivates. There is real drama strewn throughout and an in-depth portrayal of its characters. In a rather short time, it manages to portray the essence of its leads in a more thorough way than some television shows accomplish after 8 hours. It is that good.

According to The Moscow Times in 2017, the director of “Bolshoi,” Valery Todorovsky, expressed hope that he would get to turn the movie into a TV series. I hope that it eventually happens. It would be a triumph. Ballet lends itself to the format, and with the ability to explore an array of characters, there is no end to the content that could be explored.

I have been waiting for a ballet-centric film of this magnitude and quality for a long time and never thought it would come. “Bolshoi” approaches ballet like a sports drama. The respect for what it is portraying courses throughout the film, and it furthers the result. “Bolshoi” is a brilliantly executed piece.

To be a Bolshoi ballerina is to reach the zenith. It takes an obsessive level of discipline to achieve, and the movie drives that point home. Albeit, Yulya's behavior reaches levels of disrespect that would seem unlikely to be tolerated.

Not since “Rush” has the exploration of two characters’ dueling rivalry been this riveting to watch. Like that film, “Bolshoi” has rarely left my mind since seeing it. Refined and fantastically told, it is an exquisite wonder to behold. I am ready for that TV show!

Rating: 9/10

“Bolshoi” is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, and it is a must-see!

[Featured Image by Marmot-film, Telekanal Rossiya, Valery Todorovsky Production Company, TriCoast Worldwide]