Est-Quest (East/West) (1999)

 

 

 

Director:  Rťgis Wargnier

Starring:   Sandrine Bonnaire (Marie), Oleg Menshikov (Alexei), Catherine Deneuve (Gabrielle),  Sergei Bodrov Jr. (Sacha), Ruben Tapiero (Seryozha, age 7),  Erwan Baynaud (Seryozha, age 14), Grigori Manukov (Pirogov), Tatyana Dogileva (Olga),  Bogdan Stupka (Colonel Boyko),   Meglena Karalambova (Nina Fyodorovna),  Atanass Atanassov (Viktor),  Tania Massalitinova (Alexandrovna), Valentin Ganev (Volodya Petrov), Nikolai Binev (Sergei Kozlov), Renť Fťret (Ambassadeur de France).

a young Russian doctor, his French wife and son return to the Soviet Union & the disagreements start over the quality of life there

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

"June 1946, a dispatch to Soviet embassies in France, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia. If they so wish, any Russian in exile since 1917 will be eligible for a Soviet passport and will qualify for repatriation to the USSR. Thousands decided to return home, the last travelers of five dark years in Europe."

On a ship a Russian speaker named Pirogov says that the people have been gone from their motherland for 30 years. Now their motherland needs them back. The country paid a greater price than any nation In World War II, but the war against fascism united them. The person with the lowest passport number will give the toast. It turns out to be a Russian doctor. He gets up and offers a toast to his French wife Marie who left family and home to come with him to Russia. The crowd claps for the couple. The doctor goes over and starts playing a Russian tune. The others join in on the singing.

The ships land at Odessa. As they get off the ship, the passengers are treated roughly by the Russian authorities. They are split into two groups. A man and his son are split up. The son starts to run and is shot dead by a policeman.

Marieís passport is torn up in front of her by Pirogov and then she is slapped across the face. The doctor, named Golovin, is told that they have been watching him. He is a good doctor and they have work for him. Golovin is told to forget his wife Ė she is not wanted. They will get him a good Russian girl. His French wife is a spy. Golovin asks them if they are kidding him? No. They will give him his son, Serioja. They see that Golovin really wants his French wife, but say they must have a little talk with him first.

They let the doctor go in and see Marie who is sitting in an empty room. She looks roughed-up. Their son is brought in. And the family is told that they are leaving for Kiev now.

They are taken to an apartment building run by a supervisor. She says that they have strict rules in the building. The rules must be obeyed. Their laundry and bath day is Thursday. Golovin goes into the hall and tears come to his eyes. His wife comes out to speak with him. She says that she canít live her, nor can their son, nor can Alexei himself. They will go back to France. She says: "Every prison has a way out."

The doctor tours the factory and his boss tells how the workers often get backaches. Golovin wants them to do something about the dusty air like they do in France. The boss tells the doctor to forget about France. They know how they abuse their workers there. She says the doctor is here to work, not to change everything.

The apartment supervisor speaks French because she had a French nanny. She and Marie start becoming close. The supervisor tells Marie: "My dear, what a mess youíre in. Try to forget France."

One day the authorities just come and grab the supervisor and take her away.  Now her teen-age grandson Sacha is left alone. Golovin comes out and asks Sacha what happened. His mother was denounced, he says. She got in trouble because she spoke French to Marie. He says: "You foreigners are always watched." He tells the couple to leave.

Marie wants to go to the Interior Ministry. A neighbor says she will show her the bus station. One of the men calls to speak to Dr. Golovin at the Red Flag factory. Alexi comes up to stop his wife, but she resists him and pushes him into the street where he is struck by a car. Fortunately, the car was going slowly. This draws unwanted attention to the couple from the police.

Alexi asks her what got into her back there? Marie says she's tried of waiting for him to apply to leave the Soviet Union . He warns her that they could all end up in a work camp. She says that they had a deal. That if it was too bad, they could return to France. She wants to go back to France now.  She starts to run from him. He runs after her and stops her, but she starts screaming at the top of her lungs that she wants to leave. Alexi just holds her as she starts to cry. The police are still watching them. Alexi tells her that they will get out one day, but now they must bide their time.

Marie works ironing the clothes of the Soviet Army Choir performers. She often gets the shirts mixed up between the dancers. The director Col. Boyko comes in and tells her that she is not trusted because she is foreign, but it will all sort itself out. He tells her that she is pretty.

Their neighbor Olga has become the new apartment supervisor. Alexi invites her over to have some pies. She says thank you and kisses him on the mouth.

The former supervisor has died. Her grandson says he was not allowed to see her and she died alone. Marie makes an appearance at the wake. The neighbors have a little dinner devoted to the supervisor Anastasia Alexandrovna. The doctor says she was a good and kind woman and may she rest in peace. The doctor looks at the new supervisor and Marie looks at the handsome grandson.

On the day of the funeral the authorities come with a new couple to take the room occupied formerly by Alexandrovna. Sacha will have to go to a hostel. Sacha gets up and says he will not.  Marie says that Sacha can stay with them. Sacha knows how to speak French too, taught by his grandmother. He gives his grandmotherís books to Marie.

At school Sacha comes in last in a swimming race. His instructor gives him a hard time about it. He even kicks Sacha off the team. He and some of his team members get drunk at home. Marie tells him to go back to swimming, even if he is not on the team. He talks to her about his parents being executed and his grandmother keeping that fact from him. Sacha says, like Marie, he wants to get out of the country. He says he hears her talking with Alexei and hears her crying. He wants to help her. Marie says she will help Sacha get out too.

Marie spreads a salve over Sachaís back. He is going to swim in a race. He tells her he is doing it for her. She watches as he does a practice swim.

Some of the women at the factory ask Dr. Golovin if he ever makes house calls. All the women laugh. The woman boss comes in to tell Alexei that upstairs they are wondering if he is a good Soviet citizen.

The family and Sacha are going out. His boss Nina Fiodorovana is having her car pick them up. They are going to a performance of "Marie Tudor" by Victor Hugo. At the performance Alexei is asked to speak to the crowd as a one-time resident of France. He thanks the country and the Soviet government for letting him and his family come back to Russia. This upsets Marie.

Flowers are presented to Marie by a little girl and everyone claps while she stands. She does not look happy. The plays goes on. The lead actress Gabrielle wants to go out, but her host, a French diplomat, says that the good restaurants are only for party members. Marie approaches the diplomat and asks to speak to him. She says her life depends on it. Marie is seen by the police.

The diplomat says she must go to the Embassy in Moscow, but Marie says that sheís a virtual prisoner here and canít go to Moscow. She says he must help her. He says itís a matter for her adopted country since she has no French passport. The actress says she will take her letter and try to get something done for her in France.

With the police behind him, Alexei comes in and says that he is the husband and his family is happy here. He asks the actress for the letter. The actress wonít give it to him, saying that he is not the owner of the letter.

Alexei talks about the risks involved in what Marie is doing, but Marie says she will do anything to get out and sheíll do it with or without him. She believes that Alexei betrayed her with all that praise for the Soviets at the play. He tells Marie: "All those who came back with us were executed or imprisoned.. . . To save your lives, I do as Iím told." He says that she only resists him and all that he ever sees in her eyes is hostility for him. She wonít even have sex with him. He says last week he had sex with Olga. She treats him better. Marie tells her husband to get out. She throws the roses at him. Sacha hears all this. Alexei leaves. He tires to get back in to get his cigarettes. She wonít let him back in. Olga comes out and invites him in to her place.

Two months later. Marie is watching Sacha swim. His one time coach asks Marie if she is training him now. She says yes. He then tells Marie to tell Sacha to come back to swimming pool. Marie is very happy to hear this. 

Now Alexei lives with Olga. His son has to go back and forth between the two different apartments if he wants to see both of his parents. Itís awkward for dad and son. After the son leaves, Olga gives a letter from Paris, France addressed to Marie to Alexei.

One day his boss tells him she is going to go to a more important position. She says she will get him a job in a hospital. She also has gotten Alexei a two bedroom apartment. He can move in with Olga. Alexei is surprised that his boss already knows about his personal situation. The catch is that he has to give back his old apartment. Alexei says he canít do that. The boss tells him to get a divorce and then his family can keep the apartment. He says he loves his wife. She replies that she canít tell the upstairs bosses that he is married to one woman and living with another. That would be much too French for them. She finishes by saying he would be better off divorced.

Alexei tells his wife that he wants to move back in with her. She says itís too late.

The European championships are coming up soon. Selections will be made of the best swimmers. Sacha is going to Vienna, Austria if he wins the swimming trial. Marie says he will win. If he gets to Vienna, she wants him to go to the French consulate and they will send him to France. Then she wants him to go see her family and tell them she is still alive. Sacha tells her that he wonít like it if he is in France and she is still in Russia.

Sacha wins the race. A Soviet authority tells the coach that he must be crazy mentoring this Sacha. His parents were enemies of the state.

Marie is planning to go out to dinner with Sacha. Her boy asks her if Sacha goes to Vienna, will she be going there with him? She says no, she will always be with her son. Then she goes over next door to tell Alexei to watch their son. She is going out.

There is a big party for the army high-ups and Sacha and Marie are there. The coach comes in with good news. Sacha will be on the team. The big chief dances with Marie. The coach watches and sees the connection between Sacha and Marie. Later Sacha and Marie have sex.

Marie comes out to see the coach. He tells Marie that Sacha did not go to Vienna. The coach checked his locker and found out Marieís plan. He throws her letters at her. Sacha is now at a training camp on the Black Sea where they send their best men. The coach tells Marie: "And now, Marie, leave him alone! He wants to get away from your influence" Marie just glares at him.

At home Marie reads a romantic novel. Her husband comes over to her and provides her with some comfort. For the first time in a long while, she shows some affection for him.

Alexei goes past Olga. He turns around and pushes her into an alley. He grabs her purse, opens it and sees a letter addressed to him. He tells her to keep out of his life! Olga says she is going to denounce Alexei. Alexei says he is now a member of the Communist Party and they will just say she is jealous and acting out a rage. Alexei says it would be best for her to move out. He will help get her a new apartment. She shouts at him that he is a bastard.

At home Sacha shows up. Everybody welcomes him home. He is only on a 24 hour leave. He wants to go see the grave of his mother. He asks Marie if she will go with him. She does go with him. He tells her he is going to get out of Russia from Odessa where many ships go to and fro between Europe and Russia. He met a Turkish captain who will take him. She warns him that if he is caught, he will be shot.  Sacha says sheís changed. Now she is Comrade Golovinís good little wife. Marie gets mad and starts to leave. He runs after her. He says he needs her help. He needs money. The Army Choir will be in Odessa in three months. Get Boyko to bring her there.

Marie asks some of the neighbors if they can sell her wedding ring for her?

Alexei begs Marie not to go. She says itís only for ten days. He says he knows she is going to Odessa to be with Sacha. He asks if they are lovers? She says no. He says he can stop her from going. She says if he does that, she will leave him.

Marie is going with the Army Choir. In Odessa she sees her "cousin" Sacha. He says the boat is ready. Sacha takes her to the captain. He says he canít take their money. His contact on the dock has disappeared. He is canceling the arrangement. Sacha tells him he can swim out ten miles and board the ship after it leaves Odessa. Sacha tells him it is too risky. He tells her to give the captain the money. She says no, so he physically takes it from her. She starts to leave, but he stops her, saying that he is doing this for her, for the both of them. They hug.

When Marie returns to her job, Boyko scolds her for being out so long. And with Boyko is none other than the man who betrayed all those wanting to go back to Russia. Pirogov.

Sacha gets ready to start his swim. Marie sees the hated man again. He just stands there watching her. Sacha dives in and starts swimming. The choir performance starts. Sacha keeps swimming. The agent asks Marie why did Boyko bring her to Odessa? He asks her if the Colonel is her lover? Pirogov then says she came to see a swimmer named Sacha Vassiliev. He is not her cousin, but rather a lover. The agent now calls the training camp.

A Soviet boat patrols the area looking over the waters with a spotlight. Now Marie is in big trouble. She is slapped hard and told to tell them where is Sacha? She is slapped very hard three times in a row. Sacha sees the ship he wants.

One month later. Agent Pirogov is with Golovin. Marie is brought into the room in prison garb. The agents tells Golovin he is not to talk to her. She is an imperialist spy. He also says he should have killed her two years ago. The agent tells her husband that his wife seduced the boy swimmer, filled his head with all kinds of notions, arranged his escape and wanted to go with him. The boy, however, drowned. She killed him. Golovin says she is innocent and the agent shows him her signed confession. Golovin says none of itís true. Then the agent shows the husband a picture of Vassiliev with his wifeís sister walking arm in arm. Marie gets up to look at the photo, smiles and says he's free! The agent slaps her across the face.

Now the agent says Golovin will sign a statement denouncing his wife. He will sign, if he values his sonís life. Marie begs him to sign the document.

Sacha speaks with the Russian actress Gabrielle. She says he wonít be sent back to Russia, but he has to leave France because the Soviets are very angry about all the newspaper coverage of his story. Canada will take him in. Sacha says he wonít go. He wants to stay and help Marie get out. The actress says she has her own plan to help Marie, but he first must disappear.

Sacha cuts his wrists in a suicide attempt. He is discovered by the actress and saved.

Six years later. Golovin waits outside a transit camp. She walks right past her husband and son before realizing that itís them. She hugs them and cries. They take her home. Alexei tells her she looks even more beautiful now. He tells her he loves her, but she says itís all over. He says no itís not. She says she feels ashamed. He kisses her forehead, her lips and then they hug.

At dinner Alexei tells his wife that Sacha is in Canada. She leaves the dinner table saying all she did was for her herself, too. Her son cries. She tries to comfort him.

Two year later. Sofia, Bulgaria. The French ambassador tells the French actress that what they are doing is far too risky. He is afraid they both will end in prison. Golovin and his family are in Sophia. So is Golovinís former boss. Marie asks an official to help her with customs. He tells her husband jokingly that his wife is trying to get him into trouble back in Kiev.

The ambassador gets Marieís passport and gives it to the actress Gabrielle. He also says to let Marie go back to Kiev. The actress arrives at Marieís hotel. Alexei tells his wife that Gabrielle is here to take her to the French embassy. Their son is going with her. This time Marie asks for him to go with them. But he canít. Heís a Soviet citizen.

They go down to the lobby near where Gabrielle is waiting. Alexei gives the actress the okay nod and she walks outside the hotel. Alexei tells his wife to go ahead. With tears in his eyes he says he will join them, he promises. Her son walks her out. They go out a different way and emerge away from the hotel. They get into the car with Gabrielle and off they go.

Back at the hotel, they donít seem to believe Alexei when he says he didnít know about his wife's plan. They get out of the taxi and head to the French embassy. They have to stop by a checkpoint. A guard lets them by, but notices Marieís Russian socks and shoes. He chases them, but they get into the embassy before the guard can catch them. 

Once in the embassy, Marie faints. When she feels better Gabrielle says that the Bulgarians are not happy but they will let them go to France. But, in return, they want asylum denied to a dissident and that he be sent back to Bulgaria. Marie says she wonít go without Alexei. Gabrielle says they cannot do anything for Alexei.

That same day they leave Bulgaria and reenter the free world via Greece.

Alexei was sent to Sakhalin, a Russian island in the Pacific, as a medic in the labor camp there.

Thirty years later, the Soviet Union opened up under president Gorbachev. Alexei was permitted to come to France in 1987.

 

Spoiler Warning:  Interesting movie.  It kept my interest throughout the film.  But I think the story is rather far-fetched.  This husband Alexei Golovin would have to be either a saint or a fool.  I don't think too many husbands could tolerate such actions on the part of their wives like the actions of wife Marie Golovin.   Once in the Soviet Union everything starts going wrong.  But rather than blame Stalin or the Soviet system, she blames her husband.   She acts in such a way that would have gotten her hauled into the police station and at least threatened and roughed-up a bit.  And she would be told that if she tries to plan another escape, she will be sent to prison.  By her actions, she threatens the lives of her husband and her son. 

When the wife looks at her husband, she is filled with contempt and regret.  The husband makes a mistake and commits adultery, which is the final straw for his out-of-control wife.  This gets him thrown-out of his apartment.  The actions of her husband make the wife feel it's okay to start an affair with a teen-age boy living with her.  And she is using him now as her ticket out of the Soviet Union.  She doesn't seem to care about anybody but herself.  She threatens the futures and possibly the lives of her entire family and the young man, not to mention her own life. 

Marie puts escape on the back-burner when she and Sacha are discovered as lovers and he is sent  away to a training camp for athletes.  But as soon as Sacha reconnects with her, she is back to plotting her escape.  This time she is willing to leave both her son and husband behind and go with Sacha. 

After six years in prison, Marie is a bit nicer, that is, once her husband is able to convince her to put aside her various objections to him. 

Rather than enjoy the time with his wife, the husband starts plotting for her and her son's escape with the help of a famous French actress. He knows, or he should have known, that this would land him in a Gulag, but he goes ahead with his plan.  In fact, he forces his wife into the escape, because now she built up a bit of devotion to her husband and didn't want to go without him.  And he does go to prison.  Speaking for myself, I don't think I could have or even would have done what the husband did.  He and his son have been betrayed by the wife/mother.  She was a lover of the young fellow she was responsible for raising at one time.  To tell the truth I expected that Marie would end up executed by the Soviet authorities or banished for life to Siberia.  I thought maybe then she would repent her actions to her family and really regret her actions.  But, no, the movie is just too unreal.  The wife only gets six years without any probation, and the husband commits virtual suicide by helping his wife and son escape and receiving a thirty year sentence in a Gulag.  Nope, not me. I wouldn't have done it. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 

 


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