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East-West
cast: Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Minchikov, Catherine Deneuve, and Serguei Bodrov Jr

director: Regis Wargnier

120 minutes (12) 2000 widescreen ratio 16:9
Tartan DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
In 1946, Soviet Russia issued an open invitation to exiles that fled during or after the Revolution - 'come home and help re-build your beloved country'. Among those who took up the offer were an idealistic young doctor, his French wife, and their son. But their welcome isn't what they expected; the wife is labelled an Imperialist spy, the neighbours are continually poised to denounce one another, and the only way to escape squalor and fear is to toe the Party line. As the doctor reluctantly learns to play the system to keep his family alive, his wife turns for comfort to a handsome swimmer competing for a place on the Olympic team - which means foreign travel, and a chance of freedom...
   This haunting French-language drama, based on a true story, puts a very human face on the horrors inflicted on Russia in the name of communism. Never flinching from the messy details of infidelity and suspicion, it presents its central characters as ordinary, fallible people caught up in a system where emotion is mistrusted and individuality punished. As such, it's a long way from the spies-and-defectors school of cold war drama; and admittedly, there are no great revelations here about life under a dictatorship. There are one or two false notes; a French actress who takes up their case is an oddly unconvincing character, and a KGB caricature crops up occasionally. But the strong performances and convincing period detail draw the viewer in to the characters' world of quiet desperation all the same.
   Low-key, but strangely absorbing, East-West (aka: Est-Ouest) is a powerful personal story that's well worth seeking out.
   DVD extras: star and director filmographies, World Cinema trailer reel.
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