Vaslav Nijinsky was probably the greatest dancer of all time - the God of the Dance - and his diary must have been one of the most extraordinary and moving books ever written.
It was written in 1918-19 in St Moritz, where Nijinsky had retired, suffering extreme mental agony, in an attempt to escape the shadow of Diaghilev - the man who made him as a dancer, and broke him as a coherent personality. It is amazing that, grappling with insanity, Nijinsky was able to communicate his feelings so lucidly. Like van Gogh's letters, his diary is a rare and precious document.
"Vaslav Nijinsky" is a film very much in the same tradition as "Vincent - The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh", using the words from his diary and the many existing images from the Ballet Russe. In this film however, the camera 'dances' and we see from Nijinsky's point of view what it feels like to be a dancer. We follow the mind of a genius as he releases his delicate hold upon reality, and staggers along the outer verge of reason towards the end.
Van Gogh said there's nothing more artistic than to love people. Nijinsky said, "...my madness is my love for mankind..." Both were seekers of "that white light", both wanted nothing but the truth.
Director: Paul Cox
Producer: Paul Cox, Aanya Whitehead
Writer: Paul Cox
Cinematographer: Paul Cox, Hans Sonneveld
Born in Holland and settled in Melbourne since the mid-‘60s, Paul Cox is an auteur of international acclaim, having received numerous international awards. He is one of the most prolific makers of films in Australia, with numerous features, shorts and documentaries to his name. He is the recipient of many special tributes and retrospectives at film festivals across the world, including a major retrospective at the Lincoln Centre in New York in 1992.
His films of the early and mid ‘80s – Lonely Hearts (1981), Man of Flowers (1983), and My First Wife (1984) – were highly acclaimed both locally and internationally.
Man of Flowers premiered in Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival in 1984, and went on to win Best Film at the 1984 Valladolid Film Festival as well as Best Foreign Film at the 1991 Warsaw Film Festival.
Cactus premiered in Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986 and Vincent won the Jury Prize at the 1988 Istanbul International Filmdays.
A Woman's Tale won the Grand Prix at the 1992 International Flanders Film Festival in Ghent and Exile screened in competition at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival.
More recently, Cox's highly acclaimed feature Innocence (2000) won massive audience and critical acclaim, including Best Film and the People's Choice Award at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival; and 5 Australian IF awards including Best Film, Independent Filmmaker of the Year for Paul Cox, and Best Actress for Julia Blake.
Cox’s career continues currently, with features such as Human Touch (2004) and Salvation (2008).
The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is the film that Paul Cox has always wanted to make. It pushes the boundaries of the documentary form. This film is pure cinema. It is a rare cinematic portrait of the artist. In a world where most cinema has become predictable in its form, and where the narrative structure dominates above all else, it is refreshing to be taken on a cinematic journey and to succumb to the beauty of the experience. This is cinema which flows from the screen with kaleidoscopic images taken directly from and inspired by the thoughts and words of Nijinsky ...
As The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky is about a dancer, Cox has treated the form of his film as a dance. Many images are repeated, they sway back and forth, and days later they still swirl around in one's consciousness ... Paul Cox is an intense, passionate filmmaker who cares deeply about his chosen art form."
- Phillip Tyndall, Senses of Cinema
A lovingly shot, very flattering treatment of the diaries of dance legend Vaslav Nijinsky. Derek Jacobi reads aloud from the dancer's diaries, written just before he was committed to an institution for the mentally ill. The diaries themselves are by modern standards sickeningly insipid and naive; Nijinsky rejects any form of thinking or analysis in favor of love and feeling, and repeats over and over how he just wants to love everyone, so how can there be war, or any other bad things? This film could have been such a trite love-fest celebration.
Instead, Cox has managed to juxtapose the text over a series of images and music, often taken from Nijinsky's choreographies, into a tapestry that brings real meaning from what could be called the written ravings of a madman. Recurring characters based on roles Nijinsky made famous illustrate the feelings and episodes expressed in the diaries. The result is an expression of the meaning behind the madness that I found thought-provoking (even if Nijinsky would not approve of all that thinking!).
The camera work makes an intriguing parallel to the diary itself; the execution of the diary is naive in a way reminiscent of folk art, but the ideas in it are deeply sensual. Cox is certainly as capable of slick camera work as any good director, but for the dance scenes in the woods (especially those from "Afternoon of a Faun"), he chose a style of camera work that looks just a little bit clumsy and amateurish, while filming a choreography so sensual that it caused quite a scandal when Nijinsky danced it for the first time in 1912. The juxtaposition of naive execution with sensual content echoes and accentuates the feeling of the diaries themselves.
All in all a beautiful film; a great find.
- IMDb review
This video is available for streaming through Artfilms-digital.
Artfilms-digital is a unique collection of contemporary art films ideally suited for coursework, research and reference. Subscription
to Artfilms-digital allows students, faculty, and public library members to watch high quality streaming videos anywhere, anytime. Choose
from hundreds of art documentaries, interviews with artists, production recordings and instructional films across all art subject areas.
Availability : This item is available worldwide.
Ships in 2-3 days