Heartthrob for a New Millennium

Originally published in The Moscow Times on November 5, 1999

Russian movie star Oleg Menshikov doesn't know a word of French, but never mind. Language barriers aside, the Russian heartthrob has nonetheless conquered France this fall with his performance in French director Regis Wargnier's new film "East-West."

Renowned in Russia for his roles in Nikita Mikhalkov's "Burnt by the Sun" and "The Barber of Siberia," the 40-year-old Menshikov is now becoming a famous face in France.

"He is the best," said "East-West" producer Yves Marmion, explaining his choice of Menshikov for the title role in the epic historical romance, which was released in France on Sept. 1. "As far as age, physique and, of course, talent are concerned, he was the most obvious choice."

The ingredients Menshikov must digest in "East-West" are not for just any stomach: passion and deceit, beauty and violence, powerful emotions and political repression, survival and sacrifice - all of it taking place on a little-known page of Soviet history.

It is June 1946. Josef Stalin has launched his large-scale propaganda scheme to lure back Russians who emigrated to the West during the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. He offers them amnesty, a Soviet passport and the opportunity to rebuild the post-war Soviet Union.

Doctor Alexei Golovin (Menshikov), his loving French wife Marie (Sandrine Bonnaire) and their son Seryozha (Sergei Bodrov Jr.) respond to the call and return to Golovin's homeland. Once back in Odessa, however, the family does not receive the welcome they expected. Alexei's compatriots, the "traitors of the motherland," are either sent to labor camps or executed. The Golovins escape this fate only because the government hopes to remake Menshikov's young doctor into a "model returnee." A communal apartment becomes the family's new reality. Marie breaks down. She has only one goal: going back to France, recovering her freedom.

"It's a very Russian film. It's packed with emotions. It's about a beautiful love story taking place amidst difficult circumstances," Marmion said. "The landscapes are also very Russian. They provide a very traditional image of Russia. You can feel that the filmmaker loves…

Read the full text at The Moscow Times.