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[whitespace] 'East-West'
Strangers in a Strange Land: Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menchikov recoil in horror upon arriving in Cold War-era Russia in 'East-West.'

Bear Baiting

French drama 'East-West' revives Cold War fears of Soviet repression

By Richard von Busack

WHICH HAS BEEN more detrimental to the French cinema: Luc Besson's spectacles or the old-fashioned prestige movies of Régis Wargnier? East-West is Wargnier's Oscar-nominated sprawler about the plight of French émigrés to the Soviet Union in 1946. Alexei (Oleg Menchikov), a physician, and his pretty wife, Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire), arrive in the U.S.S.R., and the sun never really shines again. Immediately, the movie is plopped back into the dynamics of an Eisenhower-era evil-Commie exposé. Marie doesn't even have her bags unpacked before she's being slapped across the face by a commissar. Alexei, the typical weakling husband in this kind of drama, tries to live with the Soviet oppression, even taking up with a pretty Russian girl named Olga (Tatyana Dogileva). Meanwhile, Marie is gently seduced by her landlady's son (Sergei Bodrov Jr.), a champion swimmer who speaks French and who has plans to escape from the U.S.S.R.

East-West is a trashy film that poses as an exposé of lost history; it's interminable and yet as shallow as bad television. Wargnier, who previously directed the equally snoozy Indochine, does something unthinkable. First, he renders Bonnaire boring, making her pine her way through captivity. Second, he makes her ridiculous by indicating that our heroine has spent several years in the Gulag through the use of a couple of smudges of dirt on her cheeks. As a tricolore-waver, the film was a success in France; foreigners mistreating a citizen is a rousing subject in any cinema. But the wastage of Catherine Deneuve seems like the kind of ungallantry that should have roused an audience of Frenchmen. Painted like the Joker, she has a small part as a ranking stage star who does her best to retrieve Marie from the clutches of the Great Bear. The film is a real white elephant all told. Strictly for grandma.

East-West (PG-13; 120 min.), directed by Régis Wargnier, written by Sergei Bodrov, Louis Gardel, Rustam Ibragimbekov and Wargnier, photographed by Laurent Dailland and starring Sandrine Bonnaire and Oleg Menchikov, opens Friday at the Los Gatos Cinema and the Palo Alto Square.

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From the April 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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