Into the Red

Paranoia and repression engulf young lives in Stalin's Russia

East-West begins in 1946, as a French woman (Sandrine Bonnaire) accompanies her physician husband (Oleg Menchikov) back to his Russian homeland, in response to Stalin's campaign for repatriating those who fled the revolution. They immediately discover Stalin's overtures are simply a sadistic come-on. Nearly all the returnees are executed or thrown into camps, and only Alexei's valuable medical skills save him and Marie from such a fate. Still, the pressures of living in a bleak, repressive country quickly frays the fabric of their relationship. Director Regis Wargnier made a splash back in 1993 with Indochine, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. East-West, which was nominated this year but lost, is another drama about how political circumstances can dominate personal relations. Despite largely first-rate work from the cast (which includes Catherine Deneuve in a small supporting role) the film's portrayal of postwar Russia is so heavy-handed that it casts suspicions on its historical reliability. No one is going to suggest Stalinist Russia was truly a jolly worker's paradise, but Wargnier paints a picture that seems like something from a horror film. It would be nice if he had provided more historical evidence that the movie isn't just an overheated anticommunist fantasy, but his only cited sources are anecdotes by a few aging survivors of the repatriation.

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