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EAST/WEST, 1999
Movie Review

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EAST/WEST, 1999
Movie Review
Directed by Regis Wargnier
Starring: Oleg Menshikov, Sandrine Bonnaire and Catherine Deneuve
Review by Russell Hill




SYNOPSIS:

A young family are asked to move back to post-World War Two Russia and help in the rebuilding of their beloved country. They soon realise they made a big mistake.

Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film OSCAR

REVIEW:

Bought simply because it cost only the measly sum of £1, it’s amazing that the best movies do not cost much. In the current financial climate the world has found itself in, anything bought for such a small price that turns out to be worth every penny is quite extraordinary. With “East/West”, this was definitely the case.

Youthful doctor Alexei (Menshikov), his wife Marie (Bonnaire) and young son Sergey are the archetypal family unit. Still together after the drudgery and brutality of World War Two, they love their native Russia and decide to help out their fellow comrades. Upon their arrival, they soon realise that this decision is not exactly all it planned out to be. Like many who returned to Russia after World War Two, including soldiers, they were executed for what Stalin believed to be treason. How had they survived? Had they collaborated with the Nazi’s? Unlike their fellow passengers, Alexei and his family are spared. Being a doctor, Alexei is a model comrade and an example for those suffering under Stalin of how they should live their lives.

It is a different matter all together for Marie. Being of French origin, she already finds it difficult enough to fit in. An intellectual woman, she instantly despises her surroundings but for the good of the family she must carry on the best way she can. It is to Bonnaire’s credit that she pulls off the despair of her life that well which resounds so convincingly that you could be forgiven for thinking that is indeed a documentary you are watching instead of a feature film.

Menshikov, an unknown name to me beforehand, is definitely someone I’ve decided to watch out for in the future. He is the protagonist of the piece, and my how he pulls it off. Not the tallest of characters normally needed for the role, his good looks and confident persona does seem to ring true with the stereotype of the so-called leading man. He too is horrified by what he sees around him. Any lesser-intelligence character would have run a mile at the sight of his home country. Well, not really a mile. The Russian troops would have finished him off within a hundred yards if he had dared showed any sign of cowardice. Like his wife, he goes about his life in the best way possible for his family. Despite their squalid conditions, he does all he can to make as many friends as he can in the Russian Government in order to save his family’s and own skin. By doing this, he is able to keep his family alive, albeit with substandard food and accommodation that even the poorest of beggar would refuse.

Now, for Deneuve, she too was a revelation. Unknown to myself beforehand, I was familiar of her work but not seen any of her performances. Deneuve tries so hard to pull off the leading lady, but when she is acting against Bonnaire she really did have a difficult job in hand. Deneuve plays a well-known French Theatre actress, and when she is not treading the boards she tries to help the less-fortunate. Upon receiving a letter from Marie one day, she takes it upon herself to get this wretched family out of Russia. With the mother being French, she sees it has her national duty to do this. Viva la France et all. But, when push comes to shove, would Alexei be willing to leave the affluent existence he has created and go back to what might be an inadequate standard of living?

With direction provided by Wargnier, he really does succeed in creating this claustrophobic world of paranoia and deceit; that not one person was safe from Stalin. To a lesser-talented director it might have been too much to ask for them to successfully capture this particular historical period onto celluloid. But, mainly through the use of dimly lit scenarios this is pulled off. For any director to do so is an achievement in itself, and certainly worthy of classic status.

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