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East-Westaka - Est-Ouest
Directed by Regis Wargnier
Running time 121 minutes
Although not a 'true' story, this account of idealistic Russian émigrés who returned to their homeland from France after WWII only to be largely exterminated by Stalin is based on historical facts. It is a tragic tale and it is the knowledge that such things really occurred that saves the film from being swamped by Wargnier's high-toned telling of it. Like his Indochine (1992), which also starred Catherine Deneuve and also had a lush score by Patrick Doyle (who is best known for his work with Kenneth Branagh), this is the sort of sophisticated historical production at which the French excel and of which the presence of Deneuve is the imprimatur.
This tastefulness tends to undermine the brutality portrayed and the schematism required by having to cover over a decade in 2 hours only further distances one from the grimness it portrays. Nevertheless, it is a well-written film and the performances by the three main characters, Sandrine Bonnaire, Oleg Menshikov (who was memorable in another anti-Stalinist film, Nikita Mikhalkov's Burnt By The Sun, 1994) and Sergei Bodrov Jr. hold one's attention.