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June 1946: Stalin invites Russian emigres to return to the motherland. It's a trap: when a ship-load from France arrives in Odessa, only a physician and his family are spared execution or prison. He and his French wife (her passport ripped up) are sent to Kiev. She wants to return to France immediately; he knows that they are captives and must watch every step. By chance, she meets a touring French actress and pleads for help. She also takes a young swimmer under her wing, and several years later, he makes a bold attempt to escape. Meanwhile, the KGB is suspicious, and hope for freedom is dim. Patience, her husband's self control, and her good looks may be their only assets. Written by
When Marie goes to the KGB building in Kiev and Alexei finds her there, persuading her to leave, the viewer can read a sign on the building that says, in Cyrillic letters, "Ministerstvo na..." This is a Bulgarian genitive construction, meaning "The Ministry of..." The only Slavic languages that show the genitive case in this fashion are Bulgarian and Macedonian. The genitive case is marked differently in Russian and Ukrainian, which shows that the "KGB" building could not actually have been in Kiev. This makes sense because the film was partially shot in Bulgaria. See more »
Alexei, the young doctor who decides to go back to the Soviet Union after a generous invitation of Josef Satlin, should have had his head examined! After all, as a professional he seemed to have been doing well in France. With all the best intentions, he takes his wife and young son to the old country only to find himself trapped in a totalitarian system that made him and the family virtual prisoners.
"Est Ouest", directed by Regis Wargnier, shows in vivid detail what Alexei and Marie, his wife, have to endure when they are taken to Kiev, where he is assigned. Little did Alexei and Marie knew about the dismal housing problems of those years when the family is given a large room in an apartment that is being shared by five families!
The film concentrates in the eventual break down of the marriage caused by the environment. Alexei ends up having an affair with Olga, another flat mate, and Marie falls in love for the poor Sacha, a young man who is left alone in the world when his grandmother dies. Marie blames Alexei for all the misery they have to endure; she is regarded as a foreigner, but she can't even go back to her native France.
The film has an ironic end when Marie, helped by Gabrielle, a French actress, who is sympathetic to her fellow countryman. Marie realizes at the end of Alexei's tremendous sacrifice and ultimate punishment when she and her son are able to escape the communist hell that has imprisoned them.
Great acting in general by Sandrine Bonnaire, who as Marie, is totally credible. Oleg Menshikov, makes the best of Alexei, at times appearing uncaring and selfish, but who deeply cared for his wife. Sergei Bodrov Jr. is also excellent as Sacha, the young boy in love with Marie.
The film was shot in drab color, perhaps to emphasize the hard times during the Stalin regime. One gets only glimpses of some of the splendid, and opulent interiors, whenever the action takes place in one of those buildings or theaters. Unfortunately, the principals of this story never really had a chance to enjoy anything because the nightmare that became their lives under that totalitarian regime.
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