by Greg Muskewitz
Régis Wargnier’s historical drama telling the story of one family caught in Stalin’s trap-offering of repatriation in 1946, when a Russian citizen doctor brings his French wife and their child only to become stuck as pawns of the party.The film’s opening proves to be very educational — especially for the viewer unfamiliar with Stalin’s scam — as a boatload of unsuspecting Russians return to Odessa only to be killed or assigned into extreme poverty and used as the Communist party sees fit. The doctor’s wife is suspected as an imperialist spy, and aside from the minimum of an interrogation and smacking scene, there is no question as to what must have taken place to allow her to stay. (Ostensibly, though, there is never the absence of an eye, “helping” to keep watch.) East/West categorically fits into a traditional saga as the story’s evolution spans a great deal of time. Co-written among the director and one of the actor’s fathers, (Sergei Bodrov, among others), if the film tends to be slightly quick to slip in and out of a period, it is not done without trying to cut down on the fat and excess and focus instead on the lean but meaty portions. It also allows the opportunity, outside of the wife’s general desire to escape her prison of sorts, to prevent a clear line-of-sight at which Wargnier is manipulating the story, although it does not provide enough to avoid the fully expected nature of the ousting operation at the end, regardless of the genuine intensity it pulls off. In other senses, even with the trimmings of time and space, Wargnier cannot entirely withstand scenes of predictability, overly sentimental and the occasionally boring (Patrick Doyle’s swelling score at moments of heated tension are a major distraction). Mixed along with the solid detailing (when the wife gives her husband the boot, the neighboring supervisor’s scoop-up is exquisitely set up), are the not so well-explained — such as why the actress Gabrielle made the promise in the first place to go to such great lengths. (Yes, we understand that she made the promise, but why make the commitment, and more so, who is she?) Part of the film’s most compelling process is not the evolution of the story, but the evolution of the character of the wife, played to the note by Sandrine Bonnaire. When it’s called for her to be strong, she makes you tremble; when it’s called for her to be vulnerable, you feel pierced as well. The film gives Bonnaire ample opportunity to explore her range, and being the anachronism in the Russian milieu, she not only convincingly is able to portray the separation, but over time, blends seamlessly as well. Good support comes from the rest of the cast (most notably Oleg Menchikov), but none quite attain the classiness and poise of Bonnaire. With Sergei Bodrov, Jr., Ruben Tapiero, Erwan Baynaud, and Catherine Deneuve.[Worth-seeing.]
"... played to the note by Sandrine Bonnaire ..."
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originally posted: 12/21/03 11:16:14