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Film / East/West

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East/West is a 1999 film directed by Regis Wargnier, starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menshikov.

Russia, 1946. In the wake of the Soviet victory in World War II, Josef Stalin has issued a blanket amnesty for all Russian expats who have been exiled since Red October in 1917. The film opens with a boat bringing exiles back from Franch. Among them are Aleksei Golovin (Menshikov), his French wife Marie (Bonnaire), and their 7-year-old son Seryozha.

The hopes of the new arrivals are crushed the moment they arrive at the dock. Stalin's "amnesty" was a grotesque trick, and instead everyone arriving on the boat is either imprisoned or executed. Everyone, that is, except Aleksei and his family, because Stalin's country needs doctors. The Golovins settle down to a grim existence in Kiev. Marie starts demanding to go home, while Aleksei starts integrating better into Soviet life. Marie's deep unhappiness drives a wedge between the couple, and both have affairs, Marie's with a young competitive swimmer named Sasha (Sergei Bodrov) whom Marie resolves to help escape.


Catherine Deneuve has a small role as Gabrielle, an actress who helps Marie and Seroyozha escape back to France.


  • And Starring: Catherine Deneuve gets an "in the role of Gabrielle" credit.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: After the true horror of their situation is brought home to Aleksei after he hears his wife being tortured, he hunches over in a hallway, smoking a cigarette and twitching. When Marie comes to him after she's finally released, he breaks down in tears.
  • Commie Land: The nightmare of life in Stalin's Russia, where just talking with a foreigner can get you chucked into prison.
  • Driven to Suicide: Sort of. Sasha attempts suicide in France when he's told that he can't stay there and wait for Marie, but instead has to go to Canada.
  • Get Out!: When Aleksei confesses that he cheated on her, Marie throws him out of their room.
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  • Grave-Marking Scene: While on 24 hours' leave, Sasha goes back to his grandmother's grave and tells her how much she meant to him.
  • Headbutt of Love: Aleksei gives one to Marie when they are reconnecting after her release from a six-month prison sentence.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Anastasia, the manager of the communal apartment building, used to own the whole building, or at least her family did. They were rich enough to have a French governess, which is why Anastasia can talk to Marie.
  • Lonely Funeral: Anastasia dies while in police custody after she is denounced for talking to Marie. Her grandson Sasha is the only one who shows up at her funeral.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Marie falls in love with Sasha, who is barely out of his teens and at least 15 years younger than she is.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: While the Russian authorities can't prove Aleksei helped his wife and son escape, his career is still ruined. He gets sent out to Sakhalin Island as medic to an army outpost.
  • Spotting the Thread: Gabrielle, Marie, and her son walk past the Bulgarian guards outside the French embassy, Marie and the boy holding up their fake French passports. A suspicious guard watches as they go, sees Gabrielle's stylish high heels—and then sees Marie's clodhoppers which mark her out as a resident of the Communist block. He gives chase but the three of them make it through the gate just in time.
  • That Russian Squat Dance: Not only does the Army Choir do the squat dance, they have a move where one of the male soldiers spins one of the female soldiers like a top.
  • Schmuck Bait: Stalin's invitations for Russian exiles to return. The second person off the boat is shot In the Back.
  • Secret Police: Represented by Pirogov, a sadistic KGB officer. He seems to enjoy hitting Marie in the face during brutal interrogations.
  • Would Hit a Girl: Pirogov smacks Marie across the face when questioning her.