Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle East-West

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MAY 29, 2000: 

D: Régis Wargnier; with Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menchikov, Serguei Bodrov Jr., Catherine Deneuve. (PG-13, 121 min.)

Eight years after his internationally lauded Indochine, French director Wargnier returns with this historical/romantic epic East-West. Interesting although uneven, the film highlights a little-explored facet of modern Russian history. In 1946, Stalin offered amnesty to all Russian emigrants throughout the world who wanted to return to their homeland and participate in the postwar rebuilding of the Soviet nation. East-West tells the story of the Russian-born doctor Alexei Golovine (Menchikov) and his French wife Marie (Bonnaire), who respond to this appeal. Instantly, upon arrival, however, it is made horrendously apparent that the experience is going to be quite different than what they had expected. Several of their traveling companions are sent immediately to labor camps. The doctor, however, is to be paraded as a model returnee even though he and his wife and son are placed in a crowded communal apartment and treated abysmally. What's intriguing about East-West are the human dynamics of the story. Alexei's pain at the realization of his blunder is evident, as is his willingness to go along with the system in order to one day regain freedom for his wife and child. Marie, who is not always aware of his ulterior motives for playing the good Soviet, works on her own escape strategies. One of them involves giving a note to the world-famous visiting actress played by Catherine Deneuve (who also starred in Indochine). At the core of the movie is a touching love story, but there is too much other clutter that bogs down the momentum. Foremost, is the one-dimensionality with which all the Russians are portrayed. They are all savage bullies and brutes. Marie's story becomes sidetracked by a subplot about a Russian swimmer, who she also tries to help escape. Toward the end of the movie, an elaborate escape plan does come into play, although it's moved along by a barrage of titles that tell us of the passage of time, as if a lot was condensed into this brief overview. Despite this condensation, East-West still feels long. And although it's interesting and well-performed, East-West never locates its crux: It's all over the map.

2.5 Stars

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