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:: The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky

The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is Paul Cox’s twentieth feature film and the first film by him I have seen in its entirety. Unfortunately, I also think it may be the last, never have ninety minutes been so long before.

Vaslav Nijinsky was an acclaimed Russian ballet dancer in the early nineteen hundreds, dancing with the Ballets Russes. When war made it impossible for him to continue dancing he suffered a mental breakdown and documented his madness in a diary, Cahiers, which forms the basis for this film.

Sir Derek Jacobi reads in voice over form the diaries as we are shown images of nature interwoven with recreations from Nijinsky’s life and dancing. Several dancers play Nijinsky on the screen, all dressed in ballet characters he once portrayed.

Unfortunately the diaries are not that interesting. We cannot compare the insane Nijinsky with the one before and so there is no pathos, only rambling. Over and over he states that God is within him, he is within God, or he is God, and he loves everyone and feels everything, doesn’t think or reason, and there is only so much of that you want to hear. I wished that Cox had used some reason to inject some drama into the portrait of a character that is obviously fascinating.

The dancing is unexceptional, the imagery has been far surpassed by digital technology, so there is not even that much for the eye to feast on, and whilst Jacobi’s reading is impeccable, full of emotion and character, there just isn’t enough to make an audience care.

There is a sharp barb at critics, Nijinsky declaring them idiots, which seems to be coming from Cox as well, for those who would dare to criticise his art. Cox has always been an arthouse filmmaker, mainstream audiences are not his objective, but I think even fans may find this film a difficult task to sit through.

Screening at Cinema Nova