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 Ukraine in search of his grandfather's past. He has a photograph and the name of a village. He hires 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
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 »
If anyone has any doubts about the talent of Liev Schrieber, just a look at his new film, "Everything is Illuminated", which clearly shows a man that is not only one of America's finest actors, but a new director whose first effort is indeed an inspiration and a harbinger of what is to follow. Mr. Schreiber has adapted the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer into a film that will live forever because of the way the director has adapted the material. The film clearly surpassed our expectations since we had no preconceived ideas.
For those who haven't watched the film, perhaps you should stop reading here.
Jonathan is a collector. His love for his grandparents is boundless. He watches as his grandfather dies and as his grandmother is on what appears to be her death bed. On a clear moment, this dying woman gives Jonathan a picture and an amber ornament for his collection. Watching the photograph, taken a long time ago, a young couple are seen together. Watching makes Jonathan think it shows the grandfather and his girlfriend, taken on happier times. Watching the snapshot seems to be the motivation for this intense young man to go looking for his ancestors' past in the Ukraine.
Jonathan has made arrangements with a travel agency, Heritage Tours, of Odessa for his trip to Trochenbrod, the mythical place where his grandfather came from. The agency is handled by an older man, who claims to be blind, and his grandson, Alex, a man who loves the pop American culture that has captured his imagination, as well as his contemporaries in the country. Alex speaks a kind of English no one speaks and his conversation and translation, for Jonathan's benefit are hilarious to our ear for the use of sometimes unheard English terms. The old man insists in taking his dog, Sammy Davis Jr., against the wishes of Jonathan, who doesn't want to sit next to the snarling and barking animal during the trip.
As they embark in search of Trochenbrod, it's clearly that his companions, especially the old man has no clue where he is going. At this point, the film becomes a road movie, as the three characters riding the back roads of the country become more acquainted with one another. As the trio arrive at the sunflower field with the house at the end, it indicates they have indeed come to the right place. Some places are a clear reminder of the conflicts of the past.
The older woman, living in the isolated place, is the missing link of the story. She is able to put things into the right perspective. But here is where the story changes its emphasis from Jonathan, who clearly has come to the land of his ancestors, to the old man. We watch as this older man starts remembering things about himself. This, in turn, changes the dynamic of the film as we discover how connected Jonathan and his guides have been all the time.
Some criticism in these pages have expressed opinions about the accuracy of the story, which after all, it's a work of fiction and liberties have been taken. It would have been impossible to make another film including so much that is contained in the book. The great way the film is divided into different chapters is a clever way to let the viewer know what's about to be seen.
Elijah Wood, a magnificent film actor, does an excellent work by underplaying Jonathan. Mr. Wood makes one of his best appearances in any film with his interpretation of the main character. The felicitous casting of Eugene Hutz as Alex, the Ukranian tour assistant and translator, seems to be an idea made in heaven. Mr. Hutz is about the best thing in the film. His arcane usage of English gives the film a funny angle that delights the viewer. Boris Leskin as Alex's grandfather and driver of the tour car makes a valuable contribution to the film, as well as Laryssa Lauret, who is seen in the last part of the movie.
The excellent cinematography of Matthew Libatique brings the splendor of the Czech Republic's countryside in all its magnificence. The musical score by Paul Cantelon is heard in the background adorning the film in ways that it adds a richness to the movie.
Above all, this is a triumph for Liev Schreiber, the first time director that will surely go far in whatever he decides to do next.
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