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EAST WEST

SYNOPSIS:
After the war, Stalin invites all Russian emigrants to return home. All is forgiven, help your country in post-war reconstruction. Many return, including medic Alexei Golovine (Oleg Menchikov), taking his French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and their young son Serioja (at 7 Ruben Tapiero, at 14+ Erwan Baynaud) with him. But the promised land turns into hell as the Communists either execute the returning Russians, or send them to forced labour camps. Marie is accused of spying and her passports is confiscated. They are made to share a room in a shabby tenement and their misery deepens by the day. Marie finds a companion in 17 year old Sacha (Serguei Bodrov jnr), who is a champion swimmer with an earnest desire to flee to the West. The relationship builds as Alexei finds a different sort of companion in their neighbour Olga (Tatiana Doguileva). Seperated, the couple - each with a different approach - do their best to survive in a system that won't let them breathe. Then, in a combination of self help and outside assistance - in the form of touring French actress Gabrielle Develay (Catherine Deneuve) - their fate is changed forever.

"No surprise that this film is an audience favourite; it's a rich, satisfyingly moving film full of marvellous detail. But while it is an engrossing, brilliantly made film, it is a sad, even tragic subject matter; don't go expecting lush scenery and a rousing score. This is post-war Odessa and Kiev, and we are in a setting more reminiscent of the poorest parts of Dublin than the glories of old Russia. The film has a particularly personal resonance for me, having tasted the fruits of glorious Communism as a child in the post war period in Hungary (which shares a border with what was then the USSR) and like Marie's son, making an escape with my mother to the freedom of the West. My personal bias for the film should not, however, devalue my enthusiasm for its qualities: superb production design and music provide the background for this story of four people under enormous emotional stress in a hostile political environment. The performances are all superb, full of passion and pain, yet never manipulative or sentimental. The script is wonderfully economical, where gifted director Regis Wargnier creates spaces where a glance, a turn of the head, a minute tightening of the face can fill them in, often with a visceral wallop. The central issue of how these returning expatriates respond to the new, harsh realities of Communist Russia is marvellously explored through Marie and Alexei; he outwardly conforms in order to safeguard his family, while plotting to send them to safety. Marie resists and is impatient to escape immediately, any way she can. This sets up a friction, of course, a tension that is echoed throughout Russia in many small and not so small ways. Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menchikov are perfectly cast and give us everything by way of emotional insight. Subtle and incredibly affecting, their performances are matched by the entire cast, from the amazing youngster, Sergeui Bodrov jr (whose father co-wrote the script) to the extraordinary Catherine Deneuve. East West is the most complete and most moving film I've seen this year. If you enjoy cinema, you should not miss this - and see it on the big screen."
Andrew L. Urban

"Poetic, tragic and emotionally heart-wrenching, East West is an exquisitely beautiful example of life at its harshest, propelled all the while by hopes and dreams. Like a baton that is passed from one competitor to the next, here the baton is freedom, each person willing the next to reach those elusive barriers beyond reach. Set on a political background, we clearly see the callous, senseless cruelty of this world of double standards, when you dare trust no-one, and fear everyone. It's a moving tale of loss, betrayal and courage, contrasted by a glorious orchestral score that lifts our hopes and caresses our pain. This splendid cinematic work glows with the richness of its characters and muted production design that draws us into its world. From the simple pleasures of drinking vodka and singing a simple French children's song like 'Joli Tambour' to life-changing decisions, the range of emotions reached is wide. East West is not a trivial film. Nor is it an easy film. It knows very well how to press all the emotional buttons, and if you take your emotions to heart, it's a rather overwhelming experience. Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menchikov are wonderful and many of the film's most important moments are spoken without words. Just a look, a flicker of the eye or the body language that says it all. Catherine Deneuve, the epitome of grace, displays her considerable screen presence, while Serguei Bodrov Jr leaves a lasting impression. A chill crept over me through this film a chill that stayed with me for hours afterwards, together with a sense of melancholy with a mix of the richness of the human spirit where hope lives."
Louise Keller

"In my view, epic historical melodramas - especially ones that set out to show large-scale dramas of war, revolution or tyranny through the eyes of ordinary people - are among the hardest kinds of films to get right. If the characters are too flatly 'typical,' they're dwarfed by the scale of the events they take part in. Yet if they're made too interesting or distinctive, they threaten to take over the film for themselves, detracting from the attempt to bear witness to a collective experience. To solve these problems, you have to think hard about film form, which is just what most would-be epics don't do. East-West is a case in point. It stars some well-known and genuinely distinguished actors, and it allows their characters a certain amount of emotional complexity. In the end, though, these characters have to be made subordinate to larger historical forces: the 'romantic triangle' intrigue that carries us through much of the narrative eventually just peters out. On the other hand, the film doesn't have an awful lot to tell us about the nature of Soviet oppression: the bureaucrats and Communist Party members are caricatured bad guys. Worst of all, the style throughout is conventional, humorless, and relentlessly dour. I assumed the grey-brown colour scheme was meant to suggest the drabness of Russia under Stalin, but when the scene shifts to Paris everything still looks the same. This isn't a terrible movie: the escape sequences build up some suspense, and the acting (particularly by Sandrine Bonnaire) always holds your interest. But it isn't very interesting as art, and it's not an awful lot of fun, either."
Jake Wilson

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HEAR Andrew L. Urban & Louise Keller talk about the film in Real Audio.

CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

See Andrew L. Urban's interview with
REGIS WARGNIER

EAST WEST (M)
(Fr/Russ)

CAST: Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menchikov, Serguei Bodrov Jnr, Grigori Manoukov and Catherine Deneuve

PRODUCERS: Yves Mermion

DIRECTOR: Regis Wargnier

SCRIPT: Roustam Ibraguimbek, Serguei Bodrov, Louis Gardel, Regis Wargnier

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Laurent Dailland

EDITOR: Herve Schneid

MUSIC: Patrick Doyle

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Vladimir Svetozarov, Alexei Levtchenko

RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: August 10, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia Tristar

VIDEO RELEASE: February 21, 2001

French and Russian with English subtitles.

Awards & Festivals:
Best Foreign Language Film, Academy Awards, Nominee

Best Foreign Language Film, Golden Globe Awards, Nominee

Audience Award, Miami Film Festival

Audience Award, Palm Springs Film Festival

Audience Award, Santa Barbara Film Festival

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