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White nights - Lack of suspense, but worth seeing

White Nights is based on an original, unique idea: Nikolai Rodchenko (played by Mikhail Baryshnikov), a Russian ballet dancer who defected from the Soviet Union eight years ago, finds himself trapped back in his motherland, as a result of an emergency airplane landing. Despite this intriguing premise and many other entertaining qualities, the film leaves something to be desired.

The story unfolds as Raymond Greenwood (played by Gregory Hines), an American tap dancer who defected to Russia in opposition to the Vietnam War, is assigned by Colonel Chaiko (played by Jerzy Skolimowski) to guard Nikolai and persuade him to remain voluntarily in the Soviet Union. Nikolai instead makes Raymond realize how limited his life is in the USSR. Together they decide to run away to the American Embassy with Raymond's wife, Darya (played by Isabella Rossellini), in an attempt to return to the US.

The film occasionally explores both the negative and appealing aspects of both American and Russian societies. In an intense scene, a drunken Raymond expresses his reasons for emigrating to the Soviet Union -- mainly the trauma which scarred him in Vietnam. Most of the time, however, the movie is emphatically anti-Soviet, stressing the KGB's oppression of Soviet citizens.

The entire presentation of the Soviet Union is true to all the anti-Communist propaganda that we have grown accustomed to believe, and therefore it is invariably predictable. Colonel Chaiko is the stereotypical Soviet official, displaying a suave and polite facade when dealing with foreigners but proving to be cold and ruthless when extorting from Soviet citizens. Raymond, true to his social ranking lives with his wife in a shabby, tiny apartment which he shares with Nikolai. The KGB's plot involves bringing the threesome to Nikolai's former apartment in Leningrad. This apartment is grand and well-furnished, in accordance with Nikolai's higher status. Befitting a Soviet criminal, it is armed with obvious video cameras and microphones and surveilled at all hours.

This predictability is the major disappointment in the film. We know right away that Nikolai will try to escape, and it soon becomes obvious that Raymond and his wife will accompany him. Despite Nikolai's daring acrobatics on the edge of the apartment's high window, the escape attempt and the ensuing chase are typical of all chase scenes ever filmed. The only surprises occur at the end of the movie.

Despite the lack of suspense, White Nights has many fine moments that make it worth seeing. The dance scenes are flawless and exciting. Baryshnikov contorts his body past the limits of physical elasticity, and with beautiful grace and emotion. Hines' dance sequences are exhaustingly energetic as we watch him tap enthusiastically at a pace where the foot is quicker than the eye.

The visual effects are very evocative. The film takes its name from the phenemenon in the Arctic Circle of days and nights which are each theoretically six months in length. Actually, these periods of light and dark are modified by a peculiar prolonged twilight. The movie was filmed in Finland under these odd conditions of stark illumination which parallel the inescapable omnipresence of the KGB.

The acting is for the most part genuine and credible. Baryshnikov relives some of his own nightmares in this role, as he too defected from the Soviet Union. He delivers the part with unpretentious, honest emotion. Hines understands oppression because of his experience in America as an unsuccessful black performer before his rise to recognition. Jerzy Skolimowski, who plays Colonel Chaiko, left Poland several years ago and thus has first-hand experience with KGB. Isabella Rossellini in her portrayal of Raymond's clinging, fearful yet resentful wife is satisfactory if not all that demanding of her talent.

If one overlooks the general lack of suspense, the acting is credible and the dancing is spectacular. Furthermore some of the lines in the screenplay are brilliant: the audience exploded into laughter frequently in response to some of the tongue-in-cheek jokes. All things considered, I recommend this movie as a worthwhile, entertaining experience.

Betty J. McLaughlin->