The tone of the film, however, shifts when Jonathan and Alex do finally meet the woman they're looking for, and suddenly, this adorable comedy turns into a heart-breaking historical drama about a Jewish village that was annihilated during the Nazi occupation. Everything Is Illuminated is about history, heritage, and the wisdom that can be gained from uncovering the past. It's perfect.
Everything Is Illuminated (2005)
User ReviewsReview this title
The tone of the film, however, shifts when Jonathan and Alex do finally meet the woman they're looking for, and suddenly, this adorable comedy turns into a heart-breaking historical drama about a Jewish village that was annihilated during the Nazi occupation. Everything Is Illuminated is about history, heritage, and the wisdom that can be gained from uncovering the past. It's perfect.
Based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated is the directorial debut of actor Liev Schreiber. Schreiber also wrote the screenplay. In the movie, Jonathan (Elijah Wood) obsessively collects items from his family, from toothbrushes to retainers to scraps of paper which he then seals in ziploc bags and pins to a wall in his house to record his family history. But the space for his grandfather is conspicuously bare. All Jonathan really has of him is a piece of jewelry and an old photo of him with a woman who hid him from the Nazis during the Second World War. Jonathan decides to undertake a quest to Ukraine to find the woman, thank her, and learn more about his grandfather.
His quest is aided there by a couple of characters who run a tourist company for Jewish people, including a young man obsessed with western culture (Eugene Hutz), his grandfather (Boris Leskin), who thinks he is blind and who may have memories and demons of his own from the war, and his grandfather's temperamental seeing eye dog.
The screenplay effectively combines both humour and drama as the three characters travel through the countryside looking for Jonathan's grandfather's town, driving deeper and deeper into the memories of the past. The best performance probably comes from Eugene Hutz, playing Alex Jr., who starts the movie as a tracksuit-wearing, break dancing slacker just out to have fun but evolves into something more as not only Jonathan, but all the characters gain their own illumination.
Liev Schreiber, Elijah Wood, and Eugene Hutz attended the screening and did a very humorous Q&A after the film:
- Schreiber was very close to his grandfather, who was a Ukranian immigrant, and who died in 1993. This caused him to start to write to get his memories down on paper. Meanwhile, he was asked to do a reading of Foer's short story, The Very Rigid Search, which was an excerpt from the still unpublished novel. Schreiber was blown away by the quality of the writing, saying that Foer had done in 15 pages what Schreiber tried to do in 107. Schreiber approached Foer and they talked about their grandfathers, culture, movies, and the nature of short-term memory in America; in the end, Foer agreed to let Schreiber adapt the book.
- Schreiber's own project was intended to be a road movie, but the book has parallel narrative that is an imagined chronological history of the town of Trochenbrod that spans 500 years; given his budget and limitations as a filmmaker, he said he'd leave that to Milos Forman and take the road trip instead. This imagined chronology was what moved him to make the movie in the first place, the idea that "a past lovingly imagined was as valuable as a past accurately recalled".
- Schreiber said the movie was a series of happy accidents. After searching unsuccessfully in Ukraine for an actor, he was walking through the Lower East Side in New York, when he saw a poster of a woman centaur, topless from the waist up, with an insane cossack sitting astride her. Under the poster said the name Gogol Bordello Ukranian Punk Gypsy Band.
Eugene Hutz then took over the story. He had never pursued acting as music was his first passion. One day, a friend gave him the book, and he thought it was written in a manner similar to how he writes music; screw sentences/syntax, language is my own.
Later, they got a call from a production company, looking for eastern European music that was medieval but modern. Hutz met with Schreiber, and he soon found the movie was based on the book he just happened to be reading. Not long after that came up, Schreiber asked Hutz what he thought about Alex and whether he could do the character by any chance.
- Foer and Schreiber talked about the film in the fall of 2001, shortly after the events of September 11. Both were in Europe at the time and they talked about the derogatory comments they were hearing about Americans, which led Schreiber to want to try to find an articulate American who would defy the stereotype that Europeans have of Americans. Someone who was awkward, vulnerable, flawed, innocent, and looking for history beyond the borders of his own country. Schreiber started thinking about who that was, and Elijah came up.
One of Schreiber's inspirations as a filmmaker is Emir Kusturica (I think that's who he said, who also directed a segment in another festival movie, All the Invisible Children) who said "you don't look for the actors, you look for the people." Schreiber said there is something about who Elijah is that he has a generosity of spirit and a sincere goodness as a human being, that came across on film. Schreiber said that the eyes are important when trying to articulate a character who is an observer, and that if "eyes are the doors to the soul, Elijah's are garage doors."
- Elijah Wood had fun with a question about the similarities between his character Kevin in Sin City and Jonathan in this movie as both are sort of a blank slate on which emotions are projected. Wood replied that Jonathan may seem still and seemingly emotionless, but it is all about his observations, about his experiences with other characters and the environment he was in.
- On the differences between directing and writing: Schreiber said he likes writing a lot more and jokingly described directing as "hell". After his grandfather died, Schreiber started to think about how to preserve some sense of history and himself; is he content driven or not, or just good at interpreting other people's work? He said he loved the exercise of figuring out what is emotional to you, important to you.
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.
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.
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.
No spoilers here. The summary is, as IMDb describes, a young man's journey to the Ukraine to follow his roots and find the village where his father grew up.
The dialog is in English and Ukrainian (and Russian too, I believe). This allows for some wonderfully linguistically-based moments as one character interprets, more or less faithfully, for the English speaker in the group, depending on the circumstances.
The scenery is wonderful and the musical score is a treat with wonderful Eastern European influences. Be sure you stay through the credits for the final tune.
This is Lieve Schreiber's directorial debut and is well done. I give this film a 9, one of the best films I've seen in a long time. I recommend it highly.
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.
Ever since the concluding part of "Lord of the Rings", Elijah Wood as Frodo has found it increasingly difficult to get away from that major role. Playing a football hooligan, a psychopath and now a young Jewish American, Wood has tried any route he can to escape this typecasting. Now, with "Everything Is Illuminated" he might finally have achieved this. Playing a role which isn't as radical as other efforts, he truly gets to the soul of his character. Still, it isn't like Wood does this alone. Aided by a magnificent adaptation by first time directer Liev Schreiber and a wonderful performance by newcomer Eugene Hutz, Wood has found a magnificent production to spread his wings. "Everything is Illuminated" is a magnificent, moving piece of cinema.
Jonathan Safran Foer (Wood), a young American Jew, sets out to the Ukraine to find the mysterious girl who rescued his grandfather and helped him get to America. Arriving in the country, Jonathan meets the all talking, all dancing Alex (Hutz) and his racist grandfather (Boris Leskin). Travelling across the country, the three slowly learn more and more about the history and relations that Alex and Jonathan never knew existed.
It's a strange feeling when the film progresses into it's second chapter (it is actually divided into four overall). The first part, whilst occasionally a bit funny, is mostly serious and intense. So when we are given a brief history of Alex and his family in the second part, to switch from serious to hilarious is a weird step. It doesn't quite work, but as the film progresses, it definitely learns it's lesson as this mix of humour and sadness merges finer as time passes.
To the ultimate credit of everyone involved, as the story does continue, so do we begin to fall for the characters more and more. Elijah Wood is magnificent, Boris Leskin is so intense and strong that it raises questions why Hollywood has never properly noticed him. Most notable of all however is newcomer Eugene Hutz. Playing an intensely troubled character, Hutz is absolutely brilliant. He shows the split between his relatives and the real world with almost perfect skill, and when his character is communicating with Wood, you genuinely connect with him on a deeper level. Without Hutz, the story is so strong that the film would still be magnificent, but with him, it hits the next level.
As a debut work for actor turned director Liev Schreiber, the story is also a brilliant piece to start. A work of passion (Schreiber's grandfather himself an immigrant to America), he manages to truly embrace the emotion of the content, and by presenting us with some truly beautiful scenery and some magnificent shots, he manages to really hit home. The final half hour in particular is so beautifully created, that it's a challenge for a tear not to form in any viewers eye. It is a moving story, and with Schreiber's help, it becomes even more powerful.
Constructed with love from a passionate director, "Everything is Illuminated" is a beautiful piece. A road story with a difference, it is magnificently acted and wonderfully written. It's a film that everyone should see, and it is the perfect way for Elijah Wood to finally lay Frodo to rest.
This is a heart-felt tale about someone who is on a seemingly hopeless journey. A stranger in a strange land so to speak. Jonathan is not entirely prepared for this adventure, he sticks out like a sore thumb in the Ukraine (he would probably stick out like a sore thumb anywhere). But what he discovers is more, much more than he anticipated. This movie will make you laugh and will make you cry. Elijah Wood is really good in this film, based on the novel by Jonathan Safran Foer.
From someone I talked to, this movie is somewhat different from the book. A book I gather is really good. Nevertheless, this is a good movie, it has something for everyone and I really enjoyed it. Can someone say Oscar?
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.
The film has (at first) a seemingly slightly disconnected facade between the first and second halves. The first half is a comedy and there's little hint of the ragged truths of eras, life, wars, religious intolerance that will become revealed in the second half. While at first it may be a little disconcerting because it's a slightly unfamiliar narrative sequence, on reflection it works.
The acting was good (Hultz in the role of Alex, the interpreter, was especially great).
I've scanned most other "User Comments" and see that some who've read the book are pleased with the movie while there are a few who are not. Both feelings, of course, are valid.
For me, a retired family therapist and one-world believer, the film was relevant on two different levels.
The first, as history, gave a powerful reminder of how commonly polarizations happen -- with demonizing and trying to exterminate any of those with a smidge different moral value system than our own.
The second was that in demonstrating the first, it also revealed something in common to EACH of us, ALL our families -- that each of us must go back to our roots to more fully understand ourselves.
T.S. Eliot expressed this exquisitely in the 4th of his "Four Quartets" when he said: -- "We shall not cease from exploration// And the end of all our exploring// Will be to arrive where we started// And know the place for the first time."
Jonathan goes on a fulfilling journey that any of us would find fantastically illuminating -- to explore and discover our roots; what were those people going through then, who were they -- really! -- before, when, and during the early years before and after we were born? Etc.
So the film at first gives us the impression of a comedy, then shifts to give us a lesson in history and human deficiencies, but through all that it also gives us -- subliminally -- a message about each of ourselves. All of us would be abundantly rewarded to go back and understand the place from which we first started.
"Everything Is Illuminated" is a strange movie about a weird young man with the compulsive behavior of collecting souvenirs from his family to not forget them that seeks the past of his grandfather to understand how could be his life if his grandfather had not moved to USA. This bizarre vegetarian character meets a dysfunctional Ukrainian family that owns an amateurish travel agency specialized in helping Jews to find missing relatives, and together they have an almost surrealistic road-trip through the country of Ukraine. The movie begins like a comedy, with a sarcastic black humor, and ends in a touching and tragic drama recommended for specific audiences. My vote is seven.
Title (Brazil): "Uma Vida Iluminada" ("An Illuminated Life")
I think it is very important that there are movies being created that are about the Holocaust and how it affects people (It only happened 60 years ago!) I have been to Germany and Eastern Europe and I have studied the Holocaust, so this film meant a lot to me. I think this film did an amazing job capturing this story (I wont go into detail, I do not want to spoil it) But I definitely recommend it for anyone looking for a movie that, I know this may sound cliché', but will change your mindset on things.
Schrieber, as screenwriter and director, clearly understands that less is often more as he tells his story in an understated way. He uses the rich humour of Eugene Hutz' idiosyncratic Ukrainian interpreter Alex and guide as counterpoint to the way the other key stories here - Alex' grandfather, Lista, Jonathan and, of course those who lived and died during the war - come out almost incidentally, and the more powerfully for that.
Wood is, as ever, excellent, but he is more than matched by the non-English speaking cast.
This film is well worth watching.
To be honest if I hadn't seen that Elijah Wood was in it I probably wouldn't have taken the time, but I do enjoy his acting and here his character is quite quirky and entertaining. For my money though, Eugene Hutz stole this movie and prior to this I had no clue who he was, a truly fine job of acting!
Hope you get the chance to enjoy!
Based on the book of the same title, "Illuminated" stars Elijah Wood as Jonathan Foer, a young Jewish American adult who is very quiet, but is an avid collector of things that are valuable or hold memories. In hopes of learning more about his grandfather's past (a Holocaust survivor from a Jewish shtetl in Ukraine), Jonathan travels there and enlists the help of a guide service, which includes a young Ukranian man named Alex who speaks amusing English (Eugene Hutz) and his crazy grandfather.
The film also marks the directorial debut of Liev Schreiber, whose wide shots, elongated moments of silence and written text scene transitions fall easily in line with that indie vibe. Most noticeable of all, however, is the music. Interestingly enough, supporting actor Eugene Hutz is the frontman of the band Gogol Bordello, which fuses that Eastern European folk sound with modern song structure and rhythms. I don't know if the soundtrack features Gogol Bordello music specifically, but it features that style and a lot of it. Music is very intentionally integrated at moments and not merely used as transitional fluff--the sign of a definite independent film. The style seems to represent the coming together of cultures and is very catchy and unique, adding to the easy-going, humorous beginning of the film.
Yes, the beginning is much funnier than I thought it would be, though this of course changes as the journey becomes more difficult for the unlikely trio and eventually as Jonathan finds more of what he is seeking. With the exception of a few moments, this is not a Holocaust- focused film that will disturb you. It is more about the historical significance from a much smaller perspective, of a person to generations past without which he would not exist. The film cherishes all that is sentimental, focusing on objects and artifacts (especially seeing as Jonathan is a collector) and understanding the ways the past can influence the present in the most basic of ways.
Anyone can relate to Jonathan's journey and that's the best part of this story. Maybe not to the character himself, who we really don't know all that much about given his timid nature, but definitely to memories and wanting to understand where we came from. We all have attachments to sentimental objects which is why objects have such a powerful significance in society and literature/film. Schreiber gets how important that is to the film and really nails it. "Illuminated" is a must-see for anyone whose Holocaust education is limited to textbooks and other movies, for those that haven't really heard the stories of the people who lived it.
Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood) is a collector of familial trinkets who sets out to the Ukraine to discover teasers of how his Jewish grandfather escaped annihilation in the Ukraine at the kindness of one Augustine (Tereza Veselkova). Once in the Ukraine he hires a tour guide Alex (Eugene Hutz) who with his 'blind' grandfather (Boris Leskin) as driver and their bizarre dog Sammy Davis Jr. Jr. to take him to Trachimbrod, the site where Foer's grandfather knew Augustine. It seems there is no such place, and the journey to wherever begins. Alex mangles his English with malapropisms and strange word substitutions making his job as translator for Foer the high point of the road trip (as it made the original book the reason to read!). The many entanglements the strange little group encounter in their drive results in finding the secrets Foer is seeking and he is able to return home satisfied with his journey.
All this makes for an acceptable road trip comedy until Schreiber excises the bulk of the novel - the bits of history that make the eventual discovery of the truths Foer seeks more meaningful. And while the novel never lets the comedy slip off line, the screenplay switches gears and makes the story another tender yet sad holocaust tale. But despite the completed film's ending, the DVD shows the plentiful scenes not included in the film, scenes that are as over the top and barking for laughter as Foer's crazy novel. We should only be grateful that Schreiber has the sense to delete these costly production numbers, as they are indeed silly! Eugene Hutz (born in 1972 Yevhen Hudz in Kiev, Ukraine) is the true find of the film. His 'acting experience' is solely as the 'front man for Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band fusing supercharged folk influences with a sideshow cabaret'. But he manages the wildly maniacal yet strangely intuitive character and lines of Alex with great finesse. He is a treasure! The rest of the cast is strong and the splendid musical score by Paul Cantelon and the cinematography by Matthew Libatique add immeasurably to the film.
Though many may disagree with Schrieber's manipulation of the book, few will be able to miss the fact that for a first outing as writer/director EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED is a fine start. Three stars for the film in general, but a fourth star for the performances by Hutz and Leskin. Grady Harp
The first half of "Everything Is Illuminated" consists of g-rated versions of "Borat" jokes. Ukrainians are funny because they try to be cool like Americans. Ukrainians are laughable because they speak English in a simple-minded pidgin, calling "African Americans" "Negroes," for example, and saying "repose" for "sleep." Ukrainians are funny because of their sex lives. Ukrainians are also dirty, irrationally and by nature violent, they hate Jews, they wear unattractive clothing; the men are ready to beat up any newcomer to their town naïve enough to ask for driving directions; the women are either cowed housewives married to husbands and fathers who lead with their fists, or slatternly, sullen, obese waitresses; goat-herding Ukrainian children engage in mindless vandalism like flattening car tires. These folks are so debased that even their dogs are ugly, stupid, and vicious. Yup, there's even a creepy household pet. Of course these comically stupid, ugly, crude yokels are responsible for the Holocaust. At one point, Elijah Wood, as Jonathan Safran Foer, insists that the Ukraine was as bad as Nazi Germany.
This nasty stereotype is not the invention of Liev Schreiber, the director and script writer. Schreiber and Safran Foer, the author of the book on which the film is based, are merely exploiting, not inventing, hateful ethnic stereotypes. The image of the brutal Eastern European peasant has been around for centuries. Americans are most familiar with this stereotype from Polak jokes and the film "Borat." Eugene Hutz is genuinely funny in his thankless, Eastern European "Amos-and-Andy"-style role. He acts the Ukrainian dunce with as much grace and dignity as possible, and is the only thing worth watching in the film. Some scenes are laugh out loud funny, especially when Wood lectures Hutz on the use of the term "African American." But "Amos and Andy" was funny, too.
After about an hour of Bohunk jokes, "Everything Is Illuminated" abruptly turns off the comedy tap and turns into a turgid, static Holocaust film. What little action there was in the film, provided by Hutz's kinetic mugging, shuffling, and jiving, or by Ukrainians punching other Ukrainians, stops. Characters stand still and offer speeches about horrible things that happened in the past. Jonathan and Alex arrive at the one pleasant house, with the one dignified resident, in all of Ukraine. The colorful cottage is out of a Disney fairy tale. Clean laundry snaps on the line. Orderly rows of sunflowers surround the home. The peasant woman living in the cottage is gracious and lovely. Aha. She's not really Ukrainian. She's Jewish.
On the other hand, Elijah Wood, as Jonathan Safran Foer, a modern American Jew, comes off no better than the stereotyped Ukrainians. He, too, is a stereotype: the uptight, obsessional, neurotic, socially backward, weak, frightened, passive Jew. Wood, as Jonathan, is so stiff he could be playing a corpse. A writer and director should have a very sound aesthetic reason for making the Jewish character in a film about the Holocaust a passive Jew. Scheiber has no good reason. He's just playing two stereotypes against each other, insisting that one needn't learn anything from one of the most horrendous crimes in history in order to make a film about it. Given that there is a very self-destructive death of another Jewish character in the movie, Wood's passivity is even more troubling.
The Holocaust is never honored by "Everything Is Illuminated." In the unlikely event that this is the only Holocaust film the viewer ever sees, that viewer would have no idea what the Holocaust was. As slow, pretentious, and ponderous as this film is, it never for one moment manages to convey the monumental horror and heartbreak of the Holocaust.
Again, I'd love to see Eugene Hutz in just about any new film; meanwhile, I've been watching youtube videos of his band, "Gogol Bordello." Hutz sings and dances like a man who has vowed to live fast, play hard, die young, and leave a good looking corpse.