East/west Movie Review

Academy Award-winning director Régis Wargnier (Indochine, A French Woman, Lumiere and Company) returns to the Oscar-caliber arena with this multilingual period drama about a family lured back to Stalinist Russia under a false promise of amnesty. Wargnier's nomination for East-West is certainly deserved.

Russian emigrants Alexei (Oleg Menchikov--Barber of Siberia, The Kiss) and Marie Golovine (Sandrine Bonnaire--Circle of Passion, Les Innocents) receive a disappointing welcome when they step off the boat in Odessa with their young son, Serioja (played by Ruben Tapiero and Erwan Baynaud). But, because of Alexei's medical skills, the family is spared execution and shipped off to Kiev to share meager quarters with a household of alcoholic miscreants--including a strapping young swimmer named Sacha (Serguei Bodrov Jr.) Wracked with guilt over the miscalculation that has landed his family in captivity, Alexei struggles to protect his foreign-born wife while avoiding the scrutiny of a fear-ridden polity. Hope stirs when French actress Gabrielle Develay (Catherine Deneuve--Indochine, The Hunger, The Last Metro, Belle De Jour) comes to perform in the local theater.

Tensions plague the Golovine family, from within as well as without. Alexei, estranged from his wife, begins an affair with their building superintendent, Olga (Tatiana Doguileva) and Marie turns to the young Sacha for solace. There's nothing sexy here, however. Just lonely, desperate people clinging to each other in the dark.

This film is beautifully constructed, with enough emotionally potent material to keep you in your seat, even if you've had to pee since curtain. Bonnaire is devastating in her desperation and Oleg Menchikov's stony-faced coldness is wonderfully unnerving. Catherine Deneuve's performance as Gabrielle is a smoldering delight, though she only appears on screen a few times during the film. Despite some appallingly flat portrayals of Soviet officials that harken back to bad Cold War stereotypes, the movement of this film is upsetting and delivering; worthy of the Oscar nomination, if not the Oscar itself.

Aka East-West, Est/Ouest, Est-ouest.

Bed of roses.


East/west Rating

" Essential "

Rating: PG-13, 1999


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