A young Jewish American man endeavors to find the woman who saved his grandfather during World War II in a Ukrainian village, that was ultimately razed by the Nazis, with the help of an eccentric local.
A young Jewish American flies to the Ukraine in search of his grandfather's past. He has a photograph and the name of a village. He hires the Odessa Heritage Tours, made up of a gruff old man and his English-speaking grandson. The three, plus grandfather's deranged dog, travel in an old car from Odessa into Ukraine's heart. Jonathan, the American, is a collector, putting things he finds into small plastic bags, so he will remember. Alex, the interpreter, is an archetypal wild and crazy guy. Alex asks the old man, "Was there anti-Semitism in the Ukraine before the war?" Will they find the village? The past illuminates everything. Written by
In one scene when they are driving, you can see the car which is carrying the film/sound crew, over the grandfather's shoulder. See more »
I do not know any women who are taller than me. The women who *are* taller than me are lesbians, for whom 1969 was a very momentous year.
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Several songs are credited to the New York punk/Gypsy/Jewish klezmer band, Gogol Bordello, which is led by Eugene Hutz, who plays Alex in the film (the same band greets Jonathan when he arrives on the train). The last of these songs, "Start Wearing Purple (For Me Now)," which plays over the end credits, is credited to both a correct spelling (Gogol Bordello), dg and Gogol Bodello, an incorrect spelling. See more »
Past Illuminates Present in EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED
Actor turned director Liev Schreiber (The Sum of All Fears) does an above average screen version of the novel, Everything Is Illuminated, by author Jonathan Safran Foer. This tale of journey and self discovery is highlighted by strong ensemble performances and sharp direction with a storyline that enriches and enlightens the soul.
Jonathan Foer (Elijah Wood) is a young man who has seen his grandfather, Safran, pass away. Jonathan has a peculiar habit of taking small objects and life's little memorabilia and sealing them in plastic ziplock bags to display them on his wall. Safran gives Jonathan an old picture showing a young Safran standing next to a beautiful girl who saved his life many years ago. Thus Jonathan commences on a long journey to locate this mystery woman in the Ukraine not knowing if she is still alive. He enlists the help of a brash, young tour guide named Alex (Eugene Hutz) and his grandfather (Boris Leskin) to drive him to his goal. At first the trip hits dead ends and false leads, but as the group nears its target, the men find themselves amid the ruins of a dark chapter in history with the memories of war and the past ghosts of a nonexistent town. There, they find their own respective destinies and will be forever changed by what they learn.
This film feels like it was directed by someone who knew how to get the most from his actors. At times, the film is spoken in Russian and seems like a foreign film. The title itself is a play on self discovery. This is a thoughtful trek of one man into his past, and his past ironically involves his companions; Jonathan's obsessive journey becomes an emotional journey for Alex and his grandfather as well. It's a tale of bonding over the long haul and the guilt one must carry for a lifetime. By the end of the film, these characters have all experienced life altering events that will permanently intertwine their lives. It proves that memories can be powerful in traumatizing and also cleansing the soul. It's also about one's legacy and how others view an event or a person in the past. Alex eventually sees his grandfather in a completely different light. Even our perception of these individuals will have changed by film's end which is a tribute to a story that is well told.
The story is deceptively simple. It functions as a road trip movie (like The Straight Story) combined with an interesting mystery story. It really involves a great many layers of emotions and subplots that range from the past to the present. The ending is a bit surreal with its déjà vu feeling.
Elijah Wood (Sin City, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind)) has chosen a wide range of roles ever since his splash in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Here, he does a fine job with what is essentially a minimalist role with not much to show. Eugene Hutz and Boris Leskin fare better as Alex and his grandfather respectively. Even the grandfather's dog named Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. (that's right) is funny as a fiercely loyal companion.
The spare music score by Paul Cantelon is a moody compliment to the thoughtful nature of the film. The editing is effective as imagery from past and present are linked and transitioned effortlessly. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Gothika, Requiem for a Dream) is appropriately stark and lifeless with some impressive images of war and its aftermath.
The coincidences that emerge during the last half of the film make for good drama but are a little too coincidental. We never fully understand the whole background story of Alex's grandfather and what his motivations are. Likewise, Jonathan's blank stares and lack of apparent substance and depth do not give us much more than a sketch of a quirky man. At times, the film feels a little downbeat and depressing as more horrific revelations are exposed. But these are minor criticisms of what is a good, introspective story with good performances and interesting themes of remembrance and closure. That Schreiber not only directed but adapted the screenplay to this worthwhile slice of history is a tribute to his talents and promising potential in the future.
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