France/Russia/Bulgaria/Spain 1999

Reviewed by Michael Witt


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

The USSR, 1946. Responding to Stalin's attempts to lure back Russian emigrants to their homeland, young doctor Alexeï Golovin, his French wife Marie and their son Sérioja arrive in Odessa from France. Many of their fellow returnees are tortured, executed or deported to forced labour camps. Alexeï is allocated a room in a communal apartment in Kiev and made responsible for the health of the workforce in a local factory. He considers any form of resistance dangerous, while Marie remains fixated on escape. At a performance given by a visiting French theatre troupe, Alexeï is paraded by the authorities as a returnee from the west who has turned into a model Soviet citizen. Marie tells celebrated actress Gabrielle Develay of her unhappiness.

The family drifts apart: Alexeï embarks on an affair and Marie takes a lover, teenager Sacha. Implicated in Sacha's escape to the west, Marie is sent to the Gulag. After Stalin's death six years later, she is released. A further two years on, Alexeï and Gabrielle orchestrate Marie and Sérioja's escape to the west via the French embassy in Bulgaria. Alexeï is sent to a labour camp to work as a doctor. He has to wait until the dawn of the Gorbachev era 30 years later before rejoining his family in France.


Following the only modest success of his 1994 study of an army marriage Une femme française, director Régis Wargnier returns in East-West to the slick wide-angle historical melodrama of his earlier hugely popular Indochine (1991). In East-West he sets himself the daunting task of grappling with four decades of Soviet history and east-west relations through the vehicle of a simple love story. At the heart of the film is the relationship between Oleg Menchikov's Russian doctor Alexeï, who settles in the USSR just after World War II, and his French wife Marie, the superb Sandrine Bonnaire here making a rare but welcome foray into mainstream cinema.

Wargnier is at his most comfortable exploring marital love in its various guises: young passion, physical desire, the onset of antagonism and a mature sense of mutual support and self-sacrifice. The pent-up energy and erotic charge of the human body (in particular, the muscular physique of Sacha, the young swimming champion with whom Marie has an affair) provide a counterpoint to the monotony of the Soviet regime, conveyed by the blue-grey hue that pervades the imagery. Wargnier uses water motifs in a similar way: a constant reminder of loss and separation (Marie and Alexeï arrive in the USSR by boat from France), the swimming scenes at the pool and lake offer visual relief from the drab Kiev backdrop and cumulative sense of claustrophobia and surveillance in the couple's cramped apartment. This symbolic treatment of water and of the human body culminates in the beautifully shot and edited central escape sequence in which Sacha braves the dangerous seas in his bid for freedom.

East-West is pitched unashamedly as a broad-brushstroke historical melodrama. But the historical part of the equation is underdeveloped. Wargnier pays lip service to key dates and introduces a sprinkling of stock figures from Cold War mythology, but these aren't enough to provide any credible sense of the reality of daily life in the USSR in the late 40s. The Russian, Ukrainian and Bulgarian cast members lend a superficial air of authenticity to the film's unabashedly cartoonish sensibility (Alexeï doesn't work in any old factory; he works in one which produces red flags!). But it doesn't help that Wargnier recycles familiar images of heel-clicking leather-coated KGB baddies shouting "don't let them escape".

Wargnier's attempt to portray this relatively uncharted slice of recent history is, of course, inherently presumptuous; but faced with the task, his film is low on humility. It deploys stylistic grandiosity - as in the irritating recurrent use of unmotivated slow camera tracks - that speaks more of an aimless and distasteful display of manufactured gravitas than of a sensitive approach to historical realities.


Régis Wargnier
Yves Marmion
Sergueï Bodrov
Roustam Ibraguimbekov
Louis Gardel
Régis Wargnier
Director of Photography
Laurent Dailland
Supervising Editor
Hervé Schneid
Production Designers
Vladmir Svetozarov
Alexeï Levtchenko
Patrick Doyle
©UGC YM/France 3 Cinéma/NTV Profit/
Gala Films Ltd/
Mate Productions
Production Companies
UGC YM presents a
UGC YM/France 3 Cinéma/NTV Profit/
Gala Films Ltd/
Mate Productions co-production
Supported by Eurimages
With the participation of Sofinergie 5/Canal+/
Centre National de la Cinématographie
With the support of Procirep
Executive Producers
Studio 1 + 1:
Alexandre Rodniansky
Gala Films Ltd:
Galina Toneva
Stephan Kyrilov
Patrick Sandrin
NTV Profit, Moscow:
Evgueni Guindilis
NTV Profit, Moscow:
Ilya Ognev
Ludmila Mikhailova
Associate Producers
Mate Productions:
Mate Cantero
Stéphane Sorlat
NTV Profit:
Igor Tolstounov
Production Managers
Gérard Crosnier
Andreï Belous
Unit Managers
Pierre-Laurent Nicolas
François Pulliat
Larissa Khaliapina
Yuna Lemasson
Stéphane Weibel
Irina Kojema
Dimitri Kojema
Alexandre Tchetirkine
Denis Khaliapine
Dimitar Nikolov
Stefan Kyrilov
Erwan Riou
Fabien Capdeville
Gonzague Isle de Beauchaine
Olivier Lejort
Karine Raphaël
Bourian Tchompolov
Philippe Philipov
Ivan Kyrilov
Alexandre Marinov
Anatoly Tchouiko
Vitalik Belous
Production Consultant
Maroussia Tochkova
Assistant Directors
Christophe Cheysson
Delphine Bonnemason
Vladimir Kapitonenko
Victor Bojinov
Alexis Loukakis
Alexia Hebert de Beauvoir
Vera Zoubtsova
Script Supervisor
Isabelle Delage
Gérard Moulévrier
Alexandre Kossev
Nathaniele Esther Benchimoun
Zinaida Mamontova
Olivier Banon
Pascal-Jérôme Peyrebrune
Catherine Pujol
Christophe Paturance
Océane Lavergne
Sergeï Panteleiev
Alexandre Zlatev
Roland Savoye
Michel Revest
Pascal Morisset
Olivier Banon
Digital Effects/
3D Sequences
Isabelle Proust
Eric Dardill
Liza Ignazi
Art Directors
Rossitsa Bakeva
Jean-Philippe Reverdot
Svetlana Filakhtova
Mikhail Levtchenko
Yvetta Kotcheva
Tsvetana Yankova
Garabed Garabedian
Storyboard Artist
Bruno de Dieuleveult
Costumes Creator
Pierre-Yves Gayraud
Pierre Bechir
Astrid Danielsson
Chantal Glasman
Khadija Zeggai
Svetlana Poberejnaia
Boriana Semerdjieva
Doriana Voutchkova
Irina Kotcheva
Anna Katchouleva
Jocelyne Lemery
Marie-France Taulère
Mina Matsumura
Violetta Lazarova
Leftera Todorova
Atanaska Popova
Ivanka Gorchinina
Patrick Girault
Agate Moro
Pascal Ferrero
Emanuel Ax
Orchestra Director
James Shearman
Music Performers
Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra
Lawrence Ashmore
Music Producers
Maggie Rodford
Air Edel Associates Ltd
Music Editor
Roy Prendergast
Music Recordist/Mixer
Nick Wollage
"V Stepi Molda Vanskoï"; "Proshchanie Slavianki"; "Smuglianka"; "Divlious ia na Niebo, Tai Doumkou Gadaiou"; "V Toumanie Skrilas Milaia Odessa"; "Maroussia Raz Dva Tri"; "Iekhav Kozak za Dunaï"; "Solovi"
Guillaume Sciama
Gérard Hardy
Dominique Dalmasso
Olivier Burgaud
Jean-Charles Martel
Sound Editors
Alexandre Widmer
Marilena Cavola
Sound Effects
Laurent Lévy
François LePeuple
Foley Editor
Alexandre Widmer
Jacques Lévy
Isabelle Tat
Françoise Maulny-Lévy
Sandrine Bonnaire
Oleg Menchikov
Alexeï Golovin
Sergueï Bodrov Jr
Catherine Deneuve
Gabrielle Develay
Tatiana Doguileva
René Feret
French ambassador
Grigori Manoukov
Atanass Atanassov
Bogdan Stupka
Colonel Boïko
Meglena Karalambova
Nina Fiodorovna
Valentin Ganev
Volodia Petrov
Ruben Tapiero
Sérioja, aged 7
Erwan Baynaud
Sérioja, aged 14
Tania Massalitinova
Nikolaï Binev
Sergueï Kozlov
Daniel Martin
Turkish captain
Hubert Saint Macary
ambassador's counsel
Jauris Casanova
Joël Chapron
theatre actor
François Caron
Paris surveillance policeman
Maria Verdi
Yvan Savov
middle Petrov
Alexandre Stoliartchouk
younger Petrov
Tania Lioutzkanova
invalid's wife
Youri Yakovlev
old man at commune
Malin Krastev
Ivan Petrov
Stefan Mladenov
Evguenia Anguelova
Mac Marinov
children in apartment
Viara Tabakova
drunk's wife
Dimitar Nikolov
truck driver
Alexeï Vertinski
police 1 at arrest
Petro Panchouk
Father Gueorgui
Kalin Lavorov
Léonid Kozlov
Mikhail Ganev
Banko Bankov
interrogating officer
Robin Kafaliev
Plamen Manassiev
wharf officers
Maxim Guentchev
mayor of Kiev
Krassimir Rankov
Emil Marcov
Niolina BeletskaÏa
Igor Karalenko
Oleg Lissigor
Tamara Alexandrova
Jordan Gospodinov
Sofia taxi driver
Valentin Tanev
Bulgarian police controller
Alexandre Stoyanov
KGB policeman
Tsvetana Mirtcheva
inhalations worker
the song and dance ensemble of Ukrainian Army (artistic director:
Vitali Kholovtchouk)
the national swimming team of Ukraine
Gala Film Distributors
11,226 feet
124 minutes 44 seconds
Dolby Digital/DTS
In Colour
French theatrical title
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011