After WW II, some 120,000 Russians who fled their country during the 1917 revolution were invited back home, along with their descendants. Once back, however, the Stalinist regime treated them cruelly. The government wanted to reduce the size of the expatriate communities in case they at some point tried to claim that they represented the legitimate Russian government.
Inspired by true events, this story tells of Alexei (Oleg Menchikov), a young, Russian-born French doctor who returns to his homeland with Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), his French wife, and their son. They are immediately separated; he is told by state officials to divorce his wife, while she is questioned and beaten, her passport destroyed. Allowed to reunite, the family is sent to Kiev, where he becomes a factory medical officer. Housed in a once spacious mansion, now turned into a tenement, they must share the space with several families.
While telling of this grim state of affairs, where people are forced to live under a brutal totalitarian government, the Oscar-nominated film for Best Foreign Film of 1999 is also a very suspenseful and romantic love story. Not realizing the dangerous position her husband is in, Marie becomes bitter and frustrated, which causes the marriage to deteriorate. During a separation, Alexei moves in with a woman next door, while Marie finds solace with Sacha (Sergei Bodrov Jr.), a younger man who also lives in the house. But Alexei has never stopped loving his wife, nor has he ever given up trying to find a way for Marie to escape to freedom. This leads to his willingness to give the greatest sacrifice of all.
Layered, textured, splendidly crafted, “East-West” is a work of art. It reveals the strength of the human heart and paints a portrait of a man’s love of wife and family. It rebuffs any notion that marriage is outdated. Indeed, it expresses how that uniting of two souls transcends the turmoil of life. Although it is suggested that the couple have each had an affair, they pay a price for their marital betrayal, yet grow closer by forgiving one another and ultimately realizing what they have in each other. Caution: While we have approved “East-West,” parents beware; the adult subject matter is for mature viewers.