June 1946. Stalin launched a propaganda campaign offering Russian émigrés amnesty, a Soviet passport, and the chance to return and take part in the rebuilding of the post-war USSR. Alexeï Golovine, along with many other Russian immigrants in France, responds to this call and returns with his wife and son to his much-missed homeland. On the steamer to Odessa, the ex-refugees celebrate their last night on board. When they set foot in their native country they will have to face its terrible new reality.
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When I was a child, the world was divided in two clear-cut blocks, East (the bad) and West (the good). It was simple. On the other side of the iron curtain - which I imagined was actually a high iron wall several thousand kilometers long – there wasn't a single good soul to be saved. We've learned a lot since then, of course. We no longer generalize like that. We can now distinguish the torturers from their victims and, amazed, we wonder how people survived, how they actually managed to live through that infamous era. It was a defining period in 20th century history which is now widely documented – literature, diaries, denunciations, doctoral theses, etc – but the veil still hasn't been entirely lifted. Everyone agress about one extraordinary thing: people's incredible capacity to survive, to adapt, to resist, to swim not sink. What is that inextinguishable spark in our souls which nobody has been able to dissect or define? The ideal of freedom is only a step away from that will to survive. "East-West" is the transmission, the circulation of that life-force from one person to another, from one thought to the next, from country to country. Like a torch passed from hand to hand, everyone takes care that the flame doesn't go out, yet can let it die as long as they know it already glows in someone else's heart.
Régis Wargnier - Director