The Diaries Of Vaslav Nijinsky
"I understand what an artist is, because I am an artist myself," Vaslav Nijinsky wrote in 1919, when he was 30 and living in Switzerland. Within a year, the legendary dancer and choreographer entered an asylum, where he spent the remaining 30 years of his lifebecause in addition to understanding artists, Nijinsky also claimed to know the mind of God, the power of eroticism, the madness of war, and the secret of circles. Nijinsky's diaries from his pre-committal period contain a little biography and a little lunacy, with colorful musings on the nature of life and art nestled beside gossip about his mentor, Serge Diaghilev. It's absorbing stuff, with some of the dishy quality of Andy Warhol's diaries and an almost humorous single-mindedness whenever Nijinsky returns, yet again, to the subjects of his vegetarianism, or how much he loves Russia (and France, and England, and just about everywhere he's ever been). Dutch-born Australian director Paul Cox may seem an odd choice to make a film based on Nijinsky's writings, given that Cox is best known for quiet dramas, but the filmmaker has trod this path before: His 1987 film Vincent: The Life And Death Of Vincent Van Gogh was based on the painter's letters. As with Vincent, Cox applies the techniques of abstract and structuralist filmmaking to The Diaries Of Vaslav Nijinsky. He has Derek Jacobi reading from Nijinsky's diaries (with an echoing sound that recalls a reel-to-reel tape recorder or an auditorium) while the screen reveals images loosely related to the narration. He shows elaborately costumed dancers running through the forest, performing Nijinsky's once-scandalous choreography to Afternoon Of A Faun. He films historical recreations of Nijinsky's interactions with kings and commoners, and he assembles copious home-movie-style footage of birds, flowers, trees, water, fire, and nude figures dancing and caressing. Nijinsky has the aspect of high art: It's like an afternoon at a museum converging with an evening at the ballet. But though Cox's apparently random visual style often calls his control of the project into question, the combination of pretty colors, attractive human bodies, and poetry is never less than entertaining. Nijinsky's anecdotes provide a slight narrative tug, enough to let the audience forget about treating the film as an intellectual exercise, or about actively connecting the words and the pictures. Nijinsky is an impressionist portrait of an artist, made by someone with the understanding of an artist.