East-West review

This '99 Best Foreign Language Film nominee is the sort of old-fashioned, well-performed historical tale that Oscar loves.

The setting is Stalin's Russia, post-World War Two, to which Alexei (Oleg Menchikov) returns with his French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) to become trapped in a barbarous regime. They survive, but their marriage is soon torn between Marie's frustration and Alexei's apparent conformity.

True, Regis Wargnier's film sounds like a blustery melodrama squeezed into a sombre history lesson. But he grounds it in sturdy human emotions, Bonnaire's furious passion and Menchikov's restraint illuminating its aptly stifling sepia tones. The second half crams too much plot in, but the rest makes for a solidly crafted, intimate epic with an affecting pay-off.

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