- Actors: Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menchikov, Catherine Deneuve, Sergei Bodrov Jr, Ruben Tapiero
- Directors: Regis Wargnier
- Producers: Yves Marmion
- Format: PAL
- Language: French
- Subtitles: English
- Region: All Regions
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9 - 1.78:1
- Number of discs: 1
- Studio: Tartan
- DVD Release Date: 24 Mar. 2003
- Run Time: 120 minutes
- Average Customer Review: 9 customer reviews
- ASIN: B000083EGP
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 70,992 in DVD & Blu-ray (See Top 100 in DVD & Blu-ray)
East West [DVD]
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In the years following World War Two, Alexi (Oleg Menchikov) and Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), two Russians living In France, decide to accept Stalin's offer of amnesty and return to their homeland. But shortly after arriving in Odessa, they see their friends imprisoned and executed, and are themselves detained by force. They soon realise they have been tricked into taking part in a deception, and begin making plans to escape.
East West is, fortunately, more than the colour-by-numbers melodrama that the packaging makes it seem. On the cover, a pair of haunted eyes gaze into the middle distance above a superb example of that absurd movie poster copywriting that reads much the same wherever you put the nouns: "In a land without freedom, escape was her only hope", which is hardly more meaningful than, say, "In a land without hope, freedom was her only escape". East West deserves better.
A French-Russian production, the film tells the story of a Russian doctor, his French wife and their child. In 1946 they accept Stalin's invitation to exiled Russians to return to the motherland and help rebuild the country; swiftly they discover that the reality doesn't quite match the advertising. The film follows the stresses the situation places on the central couple's marriage and focuses on the wife's dreams of escape, which revolve around an intervention by a grand dame of French theatre (played, appropriately, by Catherine Deneuve). East West suffers slightly from several disorientating lurches forward in time, but is otherwise a superior thriller and a convincing period piece.
On the DVD: East West offers two different trailers, filmographies of the stars and director and scene selection. The film is in French with English subtitles. -Andrew Muller
Top customer reviews
While Deneuve is prominant on the cover, she appears late in the film and her role is really a beefy cameo. However, she does put some work into her performance and you can't say that about a lot of her recent films. Of the films she made in the Nineties that got distributed in Britain, she is as good here as in Indochine and Ma Saison Prefere and better than Place Vendome and Les Voleurs.
Not for the thrill or action seeker looking for a dramatic crossing of the Berlin Wall, nor is it a limp story of romance. This is a story of the REAL power of love, an invisible but omnipresent love that bonds people together in the most testing circumstances. There's never any real reference to it and the story takes turns appearing to be at odds to this. Depressing it may well be, but it's not one that you'll cry over. You'll just feel very, very lucky that it wasn't you.
** Produced by Yves Marmion and Alexander Rodnyansky
** Directed by Regis Wargnier
** Written by Rustam Ibragimbekov, Sergei Bodrov, Louis Gardel, and Regis Wargnier
** Musical score composed by Patrick Doyle
** Premiered in 1999 – released on DVD in 2000
** Soundtrack: French and Russian - covered by English subtitles
** Run time: 125 minutes
The cast includes the following:
** Oleg Menshikov as Alexei Golovin
** Sandrine Bonnaire as his wife Marie
** Ruben Tapiero as their son Seryosha – age 7-9
** Erwan Baynaud as their son Seryosha – age 14-16
** Sergei Bodrov, Jr. as Sasha Vassiliev – a young Russian man
** Catherine Deneuve as Gabrielle Develey – a famous left-wing actress from France
** Tatiana Dogileva as Olga – a Russian woman
** Meglena Karalambova as Nina – a Russian woman
** Rene Feret as the French Ambassador
[Sergei Bodrov was born in 1948. He is the father of Sergei Bodrov, Jr., who was born in 1971. Sadly, the son died in 2002. He was killed in a disaster that happened while he was working on another movie.]
[The Russian actor Oleg Menshikov plays the famous detective Erast Petrovich Fandorin in the Russian movie The State Counsellor from 2005.]
[Rene Feret (1945-2015) who has a minor role in this movie was also a director. He directed the French movie Nannerl about Mozart’s sister (2010).]
I do not wish to spoil the viewing for anyone. Therefore I am not going to reveal too much about what happens in this movie, but I have to mention a few facts in order to explain my rating. Otherwise, I will only tell you how the story begins and present the general structure of the movie.
“East/West” is a historical drama, i.e. a fictional story that is placed in a historical context. In this case the historical context is the USSR shortly after the end of World War Two.
In 1946 the Soviet government invited Russian-born émigrés to return to their motherland and help to rebuild it after the destruction caused by the war. They would all be welcome. The government would help them start a new life in their old country.
When the story begins, we are on a cruise ship that is crossing the Black Sea heading for Odessa. The passengers are Russian émigrés who are excited to begin a new life in the USSR. But as soon as the ship arrives in Odessa, it is clear that something is seriously wrong here. A large group of armed soldiers line up on the quay. What kind of welcome is this?
When the passengers come ashore, they are brutally divided into two categories: one for those who are old and useless and another one for the young ones. Later we learn that the old ones were executed, while the young ones were sent to labour camps. Stalin’s generous invitation was nothing but a trap.
The movie focuses on three passengers who are the exception: Alexei, his wife Marie, and their son Seryosha. Marie is accused of being a French spy, because she is from France, and her French passport is destroyed. Now she has no identity. The officer who interrogates her also beats her up, telling her to confess.
Alexei is not beaten. They want him, they need him, because he is a doctor. They tell him to forget his wife – she is just a foreign spy – they will find a new wife for him, but he refuses. Does he really want his wife? OK, he can have her. They let her go, and so the family is taken to live in a house in Kiev.
Living conditions are not ideal. The family of three gets one room. They must share the bathroom with several other people in the same building. The general reception is highly unfriendly. Marie is devastated. She says: “Let us give back the room and go home.”
She does not understand that this is not possible. They are prisoners in the USSR. They cannot go anywhere nor contact family or friends in France. Alexei speaks Russian as well as French. Marie and the son do not speak any Russian. At least not at first. They are isolated, because they do not understand what other people are saying.
Marie desperately wants to go back to France. She says: “They have to let us go!” Alexei tells her it is impossible, but she cannot accept that. Will Marie ever get back to France? What about her son? And what about Alexei who is Russian-born? Will he choose to stay where he is or will he go back if gets the chance?
What about the other characters on the list: Sasha, Olga, Nina, and Gabrielle? What role do they play in the drama? I will not tell you. To find out the answer to these questions, you will have to watch the movie.
As you can see, the son Seryosha is played by two actors, one whose age is 7-9 and another one whose age is 14-16. Armed with this information, you can figure out that the first part of the movie covers the years 1946-1948 and the second part covers the years 1954-1956. But I will not tell you what happens to the characters in this drama during those years.
“East/West” is a grand project whose cast includes several famous actors; an international co-production between companies in five countries. What do reviewers say about it?
On Metacritic it has a rating of 61 per cent; on IMDb it has a rating of 75 per cent; on Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of 65 per cent from the critics and an audience score of 87 per cent. It seems the general audience likes it more than the critics. The famous movie critic Roger Ebert (1942-2013) offers 2.5 of 4 stars, which corresponds to 62 per cent.
“East/West” was nominated for an Oscar in the category Best Foreign Language Film, but it did not win. When we look at the ratings, this is hardly surprising.
Roger Ebert likes this movie, but he feels the characters are not quite convincing. He also says the movie is trying to be bigger than it really is. He says this ambition is evident if you pay attention to the musical score which is composed by Patrick Doyle. I agree with Roger. I think he has some valid points here.
I have to mention two other things which bother me:
# 1. The main theme of the movie – the struggle for freedom – is sidetracked by two love stories which are not really relevant. The first one is between Alexei and Olga, a woman who lives in the room across the hall. The second one is between Marie and Sasha, a young man, whose grandmother was denounced and arrested for speaking in French with Marie.
We understand that life in the USSR puts a lot of pressure on them. She feels he has betrayed her. He feels she is too impatient. They are drifting apart. But why do they both have to find a new lover? And why do they have to find their lovers in the very same building?
# 2. In 1948, when Sasha manages to escape to the west, the KGB claims Marie helped him escape, which she did, and therefore she is sent to a labour camp for several years. What happens to her during her time in the camp? We do not know. There is not a single scene which shows her in the camp. The movie suddenly jumps six years forward. An on-screen message says “Six years later.”
We are now in 1954 and Marie is released. Her husband and her son are waiting for her. When we see her now, she looks exactly like she did before she was arrested. Six years in a Stalinist labour camp did not leave a single trace on her. I would expect her to look emaciated. But she is not. She does not even look older than before. This is hardly realistic.
“East/West” is a good movie, but it is not a great movie. While it is captivating, dramatic, and emotional, it also has some flaws which I cannot ignore. I have to remove two stars because of them. Therefore I think it deserves a rating of three stars.
PS. The following review of the movie is available online: A. O. Scott, “Welcome Home, Imperialist Dogs,” New York Times, 7 April 2000.
Though well shot and well cast, the film fails to fully engage the viewer emotionally. There are too many questioh marks over the motivation of characters (why do they leave France for the Soviet Union? Why does she keep having public outbursts which risk her whole family being shot?!) to enable you to truly feel for their situation. Yes some films play on an emotional ambiguity, but for such a film to work you have to empathise profoundly with their situation. Here, you are made to feel that they probably brought it on themselves.
Still, the cast is strong, and the subject matter historically engaging, though maybe would have made for a better documentary.
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