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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 »
I went to this film without realizing that it told a story which had parallels in the history of my own Russian-emigrant family. My grandmother's brother repatriated under Stalin, had his goods and land confiscated, died in Siberia, and lost his two young sons to the Soviet Army.
The film is absorbing and disturbing. The most shooting is done at eye level. There is a true sense of witness for the viewer in a very elemental, unavoidable way. Strangely, I think this improved the experience of the predictable horrors of life in Stalin's USSR. It made the experience seem, for me, much more present and less sentimental.
The performances were very good. Ms. Bonnaire was totally believable and very likeable, despite the naivete and hysteria of her character. Mr. Menshikov played Alexei with great complexity and nuance, which allowed me to be less judgmental and to see his irrational need to belong among his own people as a very natural inclination. Mr. Bodrov, a Russian Brad-Pitt-alike, was very magnetic in his role as Sacha.
I simply love to see Ms. Deneuve in any role, but her playing a mature French actress with admirable values was very moving for me. She carries her own maturity so regally. She was perfect for this role.
I think this film is a wonderful model of cross-cultural cinema. I would like to see more films of this type in the US.
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