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.
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"East-West" opens with a simple, dark -- almost black -- shot of a churning ocean liner wake on a cold sea, accompanied on the soundtrack by an resounding, distinctively Russian imperial march. The shot lingers for the three or so minutes of the opening credits and by the time the camera moves onboard the ship, there is an inexorable mood of foreboding uncertainty in the air.
This ship is carrying Russian expatriates from France back to the Motherland after World War II. They've been invited to help build a new future for their nation. But it is a trap laid by a deceptive and vengeful Stalin government. When the ship docks, it is met by armed soldiers and most of the passengers are dead or imprisoned within hours.
One man, a doctor named Alexei (Oleg Menchikov, "Prisoner of the Mountains"), is taken aside and told his family will be spared -- if he becomes a loyal, exemplary Soviet citizen. "Don't destroy your destiny," he's told in no uncertain terms after they realize the value of a young physician trained in Western medicine.
Continue reading: East-West Review
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