"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.
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