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
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 fresh and funny look on one of history's nightmare
Everything Is Illuminated A young Jewish American searches for the woman that helped his grandfather escape Nazi persecution while embarking on a cross-European tour with some unlikely associates.
Liev Schreiber makes his directorial debut with a playful angst usually associated with his acting ethos. When successful actors decide to sit in the director's chair, we usually get a biographical glimpse at the souls beneath the acting mask- Check. We usually get a mishmash of genres- Check. But what we normally do not get is an insightful original film which is credible, intelligent and moving.
Elijah Wood plays Jonathan, an inquisitive young boy who collects pieces of life as he goes. He is on a mission to find a woman in a photograph. The sepia picture bears his grandfather (an uncanny resemblance to him) and the woman. To aid his journey he enlists the help of travel guides that comprise of a Hip-Hop loving break-dancer, Alex (Eugene Hutz), his apathetic and perma-vexed grandfather (Boris Leskin) and his dog- Sammy Davis Junior Jr! What ensues is essentially a comedy. There is an un-patronisingly simple introduction with voice-overs. Alex's is especially funny as he educates his younger brother on the year 1969, proving how popular he is with the chicks and break-dancing thus setting him up as Jonathan's antithesis.
Schreiber begins to break down the characters as they progress and the comedy acts as an intentional veil to what is a story about three people linked to the holocaust who do not really know themselves. All three hold the film with tenderness and authenticity something Schreiber was unlikely to get wrong and as enchanting and fantastical as the film is, the horrors that are allowed to crack through, i.e. the past are presented in an almost palatable tone (incidental music, cinematography) which make them all the more unsettling.
As the unlikely group finally find the town they seek they learn of the true atrocities that occurred and find out a lot about who they really are.
Elijah wood is as authentic as usual, bringing his usual innocence and strength to the screen. Formally a resident good in Lord of the Rings and a resident evil in Sin City he plays Jonathan with aplomb as he is bombarded with culture shocks and a quest for truth. Boris Leskin as the grandfather also delivers his angst and frustration at the youths with great humour and conviction as his own past is unravelled. However, it is Eugene Hutz as Alex that makes the show. The director using that old trade of translation misunderstandings to create and maintain a humour that is actually funny and not gimmicky.
Schreiber has delivered an enchanting debut that has both heart and soul. The continuous score and beautiful photography creates a fairy tale haze around a story about identity, truth and family. If there was a complaint, it would be the speed at which the film changes direction; though this could have been intentional it may not sit well with all. Nevertheless this is a sterling effort that delivers great comedy and bonding between an unlikely group while dissecting another aspect of the horrors of World War 2 in a completely fresh fashion.
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