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.
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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
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 »
My grandfather informs me that is not possible.
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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 »
A Sentimental Road Trip ThroughThe Impact of Eastern European History
"Everything is Illuminated" is a simplified interpretation of something more than half of the Jonathan Safran Foer novel. This version is more about changes in Eastern Europe from World War II through post-Cold War and how the younger generation relates to that history as a family memory.
Debut director/adapter Liev Schreiber retains some of the humor and language clashes of the novel, mostly through the marvelous Eugene Hutz as the U.S.-beguiled Ukrainian tour guide. He is so eye-catching that the film becomes more his odyssey into his country and his family as he goes from his comfortable milieu in sophisticated Odessa to the heart of a cynical, isolated land that has been ravaged by conquerors through the Communists and now capitalists, with both Jews and non-Jews as detritus. As funny as his opening scenes are when he establishes his cheeky bravura, we later feel his fish-out-of-waterness in his own country when he tries to ask directions of local yokels.
Shreiber uses Elijah Wood, as the American tourist, as an up tight cog in a visual panoply, as his character is less verbal than as one of the narrators in the book. He and Hutz play off each other well until the conclusion that becomes more sentimental in this streamlined plot. Once the grandfather's story takes over in the last quarter of the film, marvelously and unpredictably enacted by Boris Leskin, the younger generation does not seem to undergo any catharsis, as they just tidy up the closure.
Schreiber does a wonderful job visualizing the human urge to document history. One of his consultants in the credits is Professor Yaffa Eliach and her style of remembering pre-Holocaust shtetl life through artifacts clearly inspired the look and it is very powerful and effective.
The Czech Republic stands in for the Ukraine and the production design staff were able to find memorable symbols of change in the cities, towns and countryside, as this is now primarily a road movie, and the long driving scenes do drag a bit. Schreiber retains some of the symbolism from the book, particularly of the moon and river, but having cut out the portions of the book that explain those, they just look pretty or ominous for atmosphere and no longer represent time and fate.
As W.C. Fields would have predicted, the dog steals most of his scenes for easy laughs. In general, Schreiber does go for more poignancy than the book. It is irresistibly touching, especially for those who haven't read the book, but less morally and emotionally messy.
The film is enormously uplifted by its marvelous soundtrack, which ranges from songs and instrumentals from Hutz's gypsy band to traditional tunes to contemporary tracks to Paul Cantelon's klezmer fusion score.
This is not a Holocaust film per se, being a kind of mirror image of "The Train of Life (Train de vie)" as about memory of a time that is freighted with meaning now, but will resonate more with those who have an emotional connection to that history.
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