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.
Jewish-American writer Jonathan Safran Foer is a collector of his family's memorabilia, although most of the items, some which he takes without asking, would not be considered keepsakes by the average person. He places most of those items in individual Ziploc bags, and hangs them on his keepsake wall under the photograph of the person to who it is most associated. He has this compulsion in an effort to remember. He is able to tie a photograph that he receives from his grandmother, Sabine Foer, on her deathbed - it of his grandfather, Safran Foer, during the war in the Ukraine, and a young woman he will learn is named Augustine - back to a pendant he stole from his grandfather on his deathbed in 1989, the pendant of a glass encased grasshopper. Learning that Augustine somehow saved his grandfather's life leads to Jonathan going on a quest to find out the story at its source where the photograph was taken, in a now non-existent and probably largely forgotten town called Trachimbrod that... 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 »
I really liked this movie ... but the ads I saw implied, and one published review actually said, that this movie "benefits from a light touch." That to me is very misleading.
There is indeed plenty of humor: eccentric, un-subtle, sometimes somewhat twisted humor: the kind of humor I generally find very appealing indeed. But most of the humor is the kind that appears conscious at all times of things deeply serious, deeply sensitive, even deeply painful. The movie weaves together themes of Past and Present, Perception and Truth, Memory and Activity, Life and Death. The entire movie is suffused by the history of European anti-Semiticism in general, and of the Holocaust in particular.
How can Humor and Horror be combined in the same movie? The review I saw suggested that the humor is Absurdist. I don't think this is the case at all; at least not in the common sense. Instead, I think this movie stands in the tradition of much Jewish / Yiddish literature and theatre. I don't claim to be any kind of expert in this area; but from what I've seen, Humor is used, in this cultural context, both as a coping tool for the horribly tragic experiences of this people; and also Humor is used as a means of "recovering the Divine" for men and women who choose a path of Faith rather than a path of either Despair or Absurdism. See "Fiddler on the Roof" for Humor used in both ways in this rich tradition.
Elijah Wood (Jonathon) Wood wears horn rimmed glasses that really make him look, well, strange: compare Sin City when he wore the same kinds of glasses with chilling effect. In this movie, it's easy to see how the glasses become a metaphor for both his Search and for his Struggle between Perception and Truth. Eugene Hutz (Young Alex) and Boris Lesking (Old Alex) are both really just wonderful. Jonathon and Young Alex are from the same generation, yet seem so very, very different; and then find that they are not so different after all. And the way in which the Apparent Narrative Voice changes gradually from that of Jonathon to that of Young Alex .. as a journey of intended discovery for Jonathon becomes one of discovery for both Young Alex and Old Alex ... is to me so very moving.
There are some wonderful scenes and panoramas from (I'm told) Prague and environs, standing in for the Ukraine of the story line. All feels very authentic and seems to give a wonderful sense of place; although I've never been myself to the Ukraine and can hardly testify to this from first hand experience.
All in all, if you're looking for light comedy, I would not recommend this movie at all. On the other hand, if you are interested in a wonderful, delightful, and deeply moving film, please, check out this wonderful movie.
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