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Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film.
Starring: Catherine Deneuve, Erwan Baynaud, Oleg Menshikov, Rene
Ruben Tapiero, Sandrine Bonnaire, Serguei Bodrov Jr.
Directed by Regis Wargnier.
Produced by Yves Marmion.
Written by Louis Gardel, Regis Wargnier, Roustam Ibraguimbek and Serguei
Distributor: Sony Pictures Classics
Released to theaters in 2000, now available on video.
Web site: www.spe.sony.com/classics/eastwest/
Reviewed by Hans Sherrer
The prisons in which people are confined have all sorts of names. In this
country, Leavenworth, Marion, Alcatraz and Sing Sing can evoke images of
godforsaken places from which no freedom loving person wouldn't want to
escape if they could find a way to do so. Every country has prisons that
conjure similar mental images of a hellish place reserved for people
authorities have deemed for some reason to be unmanageable or deviant.
However, contrary to popular belief that they are havens for only "bad
people,"prisons throughout the world are populated by men and women
innocent of committing a crime or otherwise harming anyone. Innocent people,
for example, are reliably estimated to comprise 10% to 20% of the prison
population in this country.
Set in post WWII Europe, East-West graphically portrays life in a prison
where 100% of the inmates were innocent: Soviet Russia. The movie does this
while telling the true story of a Russian doctor and his French wife and
child who were lured to Russia from France after WWII by Stalin's patriotic
plea for expatriates to return and help rebuild the war torn country.
From the moment they set foot in Russia off the ship's gangplank, the husband
and wife knew they had been tricked by Stalin's promises. Intolerance of
dissent and the ironfisted regulation of society by the government were as intense and pervasive as it had been prior to the war. Russia
functioned as a gigantic prison guarded by security forces ready to arrest or
shoot anyone who might cause trouble or who tried to leave the country
Although they were granted perks because the husband was a doctor, life in
Russia was hard, uncertain and colorless. As it is in all prisons,
the stress of their existence was heightened by ever present surveillance and
informants rewarded for reporting irregular behavior, such as the woman
arrested and shot after she was heard talking to the doctor's wife in French.
Wanting to return home to France with her son, the doctor's wife was unable
to do so by diplomatic means. Her desperation to return to France was so
intense that she refused to accept her husband's belief that leaving Russia
was impossible without official permission. So she began to plan her escape,
preferring the risk of death or banishment to Siberia for a period of years
if caught, over living with her family in a state of captivity and the
constant fear of making a misstep or trusting the wrong person.
Facing significant obstacles designed to prevent anyone's escape from Russia,
she exhibited resourcefulness, courage and determination to overcome them and
resume the life she had left behind. Most of the movie is devoted to her
quest to escape, and it is too intense a story to dilute by revealing how it
unfolds. However, the magnitude of frightening situations encountered by those on the
run as well as those faced by someone trying to escape from any other prison,
and the odds of her success were not much better.
Filmed in a former Soviet Republic, East-West is a first-rate
suspenseful drama that shows how strong the drive is within some people to
live where their personal freedom, opinions and choices are respected, and
the sacrifices their loved ones will make to help them find
freedom. The gritty story is so engrossing that it is easy to forget that
it is subtitled, since all the characters speak in either French or Russian.
East-West was shown in a limited number of theaters nationwide in the spring
of 2000. Now available on video, it is certainly worth renting on a night
when you're in the mood for a compelling, but thoughtful and inspirational