"Style is what happens when your phrasing hardens."
- Ornette Coleman, jazz legend



directed by Regis Wargnier

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 08, 2015
Category: Drama

Patti Smith: M Train
Book Club Suggestions
WEEKEND CLASSIC: If Steven Spielberg had directed "East-West," tens of millions of Americans would have seen it and critics would have proclaimed it his "masterpiece." But Regis Wargnier directed it, and it’s mostly in Russian and French, with subtitles, and French and Russian actors, and so only those who pay close attention to Academy Award nominations — "East-West" was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film — bothered to track this remarkable film down. A pity. Let’s correct that.

After World War II, the USSR invited exiles to return to Mother Russia. But the country that "welcomed" the exiles home was a harsh, quixotic police state — no sooner had refugees cleared the border than they learned the horrible truth. And then there was nothing they could do about it.

“East-West” is the story of one couple. Marie is French. She married Alexi, a Russian doctor, in Paris. Think she’s going to like Russia?

The largest trouble is political. Stalin is ruthless and crazy, a lethal combination — everyone in Russia is under surveillance. But the personal informs the political. Marie is independent, outspoken — in a word, French. In a culture that rewards cunning and silence, she’s destined for trouble. The Russians suspect her of espionage and take her passport. She decides at once that she must somehow return to France. Easier said than done. [To buy "East-West" from Amazon or stream the video, click here.]

This virtual imprisonment takes a toll on the marriage. And yet this is a great love story, for Alexei slowly learns how to manipulate the system to help his family get free. Marie tries another path. Your heart weeps.

Action-adventure? Yes, because death is a random visitor in a police state. Any mistake, any careless remark, and you can disappear. So there is a tension here that is more real than in most dramas — this carries the weight of reality.

Equally thrilling: the presence of Catherine Deneuve. For her fans, this is one of her best roles, right up there with her part in Wargnier’s  " Indochine. "

“East-West” has the sweep of a historical pageant and the drama of a political thriller. At the same time, it’s a portrait of a marriage under enormous strain. Something for everyone.

Short takes

Take a trip to Harbour Island without leaving home

It’s not easy to get to Harbour Island. Fly to the Bahamas, take a small plane from Nassau to Eleuthera, then board a boat for the 15-minute crossing to Harbour Island. Once you’re on the tiny island — three miles long, a half-mile wide — there are no cars, only golf carts. Why go to all that trouble? For the pink sand beaches, the total absence of tension, the relatively few rich Americans — and the bonefishing. My friend Elizabeth Howard, who has spent considerable time on Harbour Island, has written a charming story for children about a local girl and the afternoon she gets to spend with a legendary fisherman. And Diana Wege’s illustrations are the next best thing to being there. [To buy “A Day with Bonefish Joe” from Amazon, click here.]

Ingredients for a ‘One Night Only’ Book Group: a hot novel (‘Married Sex’), the author (me), wine (white)

Jean Hanff Korelitz writes novels and runs BOOKTHEWRITER, which represents more than 100 NYC-based authors who are available to visit book groups in and around the city. She also organizes BOOKTHEWRITER’s Pop-Up Book Groups, which exist for a single night for people who just happen to want to kick a particular book around with a particular writer — in this case, me. On Thursday, October 29, from 7:30 to 9:30, in a chic Manhattan living room with a great view, we’ll be chatting about “Married Sex,” the novel and the novel concept. Considering the topic, wine will be served. I’ll spare you background on my book, on the reasonable assumption you’ve heard plenty, if not too much. Here’s the information/reservation form.

Ella Woodward got sick. Then she ate herself well.

Ella Woodward was your basic 19-year-old English girl — “a sugar monster, and I mean a total addict.” But in 2011, she was diagnosed with Postural Tachycardia Syndrome: “I literally couldn’t walk down the street, I slept for 16 hours a day, had never ending heart palpitations, was in chronic pain, had unbearable stomach issues, constant headaches and the list goes on.” Not the kind of affliction you want when you’re a university student who’s just starting to work as a model. She dared to take a vacation; she came home in a wheelchair. She went to the Web — and returned a gluten-free vegan. She started a food blog; 18 months later, it had 5 million hits. In her book, “Deliciously Ella: 100+ Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Plant-Based, Gluten-Free Recipes,” she counts “goodness, not calories.” If smoothies, mango-and-sesame quinoa, and sweet potato and carrot mash appeal to you, here’s your cookbook. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

“Climbing Back: A Family’s Journey through Brain Injury”

I haven’t seen most of my college friends in 47 years. When I think of them, I see them as they were — as we were — in 1968. Elise Rosenhaupt and her boyfriend Tom: off they go, bright and shining, headed for New Mexico. So when Elise recently sent me her new book, “Climbing Back: A Family’s Journey through Brain Injury,” the title was like a blow to my brain. It begins like this: “The last time I saw our son before his injury, my husband and I were walking toward Harvard Square.” And you sink with her: getting the news that Martin, a Harvard sophomore, had been struck by a car that launched him 100 feet in the air. He’d landed on his head. He was in Neurological Intensive Care at Massachusetts General Hospital.

There are many books that chronicle disaster and recovery. This one’s not like them. There are doctors and nurses, of course, and friends in the waiting room, and Harvard faculty showing up unexpectedly, but Elise Rosenhaupt has worked as a poetry editor, and she knows when to weave in the story of her marriage, her family, her parents and their brain disorders. The prose is taut: “There is nothing in my world but wanting Martin to live.” And you think, this is how recovery is done when it’s done right, when you marvel at the frailty of our bodies and the resilience of our spirits. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]