1946: Stalin launches a vast propaganda campaign aimed at Russian emigrants
living in the West, offering them an amnesty, a Soviet passport and the chance
to participate in the post-war reconstruction of the USSR. Alexei Golovine,
an emigrant living in France responds to this appeal along with many others.
He decides to return to the mother country which he has missed so deeply, taking
his young French wife, Marie, and his son Serioja, with him.
On arrival in Odessa, Stalin's welcome is not what they had expected. Many
of their travelling companions are executed on the spot or sent to forced
labor camps. Alexei and his family escape this fate and are sent to Kiev simply
because the Soviet authorities realise that they have much to gain from this
young doctor. He will be paraded as an example, a model "returnee". This is
the price Alexei has to pay to save Marie and Serioja.
manages to get through to Gabrielle and hand her a letter. When they get home,
Marie shuts her door on Alexei whose submissiveness and betrayal she is no longer
able to bear.
He is posted to the infirmary of a textile factory and he and his family
are allocated a single room in a communal apartment. The "kommunalka" is to
become Marie's new home, where a complete lack of privacy and petty acts of
deception are a reality of daily life. Despite the strength of their love,
Alexei and Marie gradually grow apart. Alexei conforms, accepts, waits whereas
Marie refuses, bridles and has one sole aim: to leave again, to regain her
freedom... But all her attempts are doomed to failure, blocked by Alexei.
When a leading French theatre group, led by the famous actress, Gabrielle
Develay, arrives in Kiev on tour, Marie knows that this is her chance to alert
French officials to her plight.
Alexei, the stakes are quite different. He has been chosen to give the welcoming
speech for the company, to bear personal witness of his success as a man who
left the West for the East.
Marie finds a companion in her solitude in the shape of her seventeen-year-old
neighbor, Sacha, an exceptional swimmer, whose attitude has kept him out of
the national conscription. Sacha gradually rediscovers his taste for training,
thanks to Marie's efforts. Every day, she takes him down to the river to swim
alone against the current. Marie and Sacha share one wild hope: that he will
get back and win selection for the European championships in Vienna. Once
there, Sacha will be free, but it will be freedom without Marie, whom he loves.
Marie is resolute, however. He must go, for freedom is what is the most important
... Sacha wins the national race but is still not selected for Vienna. Neither
he, nor Marie will give up, however, despite the obstacles, despite the vicious
twists of fate.
obsession with freedom is too strong, it is what keeps them alive. They can
wait and will be ready to seize another opportunity when it arises.
Finally, as a result of a daring, heroic act, risking his life, Sacha finally
manages to get away from the Soviet Union. But Marie pays dearly for Sacha's
exploit. Despite Alexei's attempts to save her, she is sent to a gulag.
Some years later, after Stalin's death, Alexei manages to get Marie rehabilitated.
She is freed shortly after. Marie's ordeal has marked her deeply. It seems
that she no longer hopes for anything, that merely being alive is enough for
her. Can the inextinguishable flame, the indomitable breath of freedom which
carried her for so long have been doused?
Alexei cannot be sure, but he has not given up. He intends to repay his debt
to Marie by helping her to regain her freedom at long last. He has been waiting
for this four years: the moment when he will enable Marie to return to France.
preferred not to mention it before: why fan the flames of hope if you are unsure
of being able to succeed? But the opportunity presents itself one day and Alexei
grabs it with both hands. Gabrielle Develay, the French actress, has not forgotten
And once again, if somebody is to achieve what they desire, somebody else
has to pay. But Alexei is fully aware of that. He is ready.