Everything Is Illuminated (2005)

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Overall Rating 74%
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Ranked #2,278
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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. --IMDb
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 2, 2005
Kate Winslet said it best on an episode of HBO's "Extras" - "How many more films about the Holocaust do we need?" As insensitive as that might sound, it is an honest statement. We have been beaten over the head with Holocaust films for the past thirty years, one after another after another. Most agree that none will ever compare to "Schindler's List", so why do we continue to need these films each and every year? We know the Holocaust was terrible. We feel for the victims and the descendants of the victims. But, it only took "Hotel Rwanda" to let most people realize how terrible the Rwandan genocides were. We have had twenty or so Holocaust films and very few offer any new insight into the suffering that transpired. That said - "Everything Is Illuminated" is not a film about the Holocaust. It deals with anti-semitism, the Nazi destruction in the Ukraine, and ancient Jewish beliefs still held in practice. It deals with all of these things, but the word 'holocaust' is not once mentioned in the entire film. I applaud that. "Everything Is Illuminated", based on the popular novel of the same name, is director Liev Schreiber's first feature film, and what an unusual and engrossing film it turned out to be. This film throws comedy, insight, intense drama, and regret at us with the force of bazooka, and we enjoy every tear-inducing minute of it. "Everything Is Illuminated" was one of the most visually remarkable films I have seen since "Pleasantville".

Elijah Wood, in quite possibly his best role to date, stars as Jonathan Foer. Jonathan is a collector of things...family things, as he says, "So I don't forget." When Jonathan's elderly grandmother gives him an old picture of his late grandfather and a woman who supposedly saved him from the Nazis back in their old hometown of Trachimbrod, Jonathan makes it his mission to travel to Ukraine, find the woman in the picture, and get a little more insight into his past. He acquires the services of Alex (Eugene Lutz) and Grandfather (Boris Leskin) - they run a tour company that takes Jewish people back to their roots. Alex is an Odessa native who dresses like early-90's MC Hammer and talks with the kind of distorted precision that makes every line a goldmine. Grandfather is old, set in his ways. He thinks he is blind, and even has a 'seeing-eye bitch' named Sammy Davis Junior Junior whom, as Alex puts it, is 'deranged'. So, Jonathan, Alex, Grandfather, and the dog set out on their quest to find the town of Trachimbrod and the woman who saved Jonathan's grandfather's life. Along the way, secrets are revealed, stories are exchanged, and the three men develop a deep and meaningful relationship that transcends ethnicity and nationality. We learn that Grandfather might know a little more about Trachimbrod than he is letting on, that Alex has issues with self-esteem, and that Jonathan might be collecting because of a void in his own life. "Everything Is Illuminated" tells the story of one of the most unusual and remarkable cinematic journeys you are likely to ever see.

This film was absolutely gorgeous. Director of photography Matthew Libatique, who was also responsible for the brilliant cinematography in "Requiem for A Dream", has to be a favorite come Oscar time. He turns the Ukrainian countryside into something out of a dream. He turns an ordinary country road into a passageway to illumination. The scene with Eugene Lutz walking down the road, surrounded on all sides by sunflowers, is one of the most memorable scenes, visually, I have seen since Robin Williams landed into a world of paints in "What Dreams May Come". The original music by Paul Cantelon also adds a feel of old world charm and magic to the picture, constantly following the pacing of the film as if they were one in the same. Director Liev Schreiber must have genuinely loved this book, because his love for the subject matter is evident on every single frame of the film. This is a brilliant directorial debut, and I would compare it to Spike Jonze's directorial debut, though "Everything Is Illuminated" is more unique on a visual level. And, it's not so much the different techniques used as it is the way in which they are used. Ordinary shots are turned into the extraordinary. "Everything Is Illuminated" should certainly find consideration in Best Cinematography, Best Art Direction, and Best Editing. It certainly deserves it.

As mentioned previously, this was Elijah Wood's best performance to date. Sorry to enrage all of you "Lord of the Rings" fans, but as Jonathan, he brings out this quiet quirkiness, a kind of unspoken sadness. Here is this young guy who is a collector of all of these things, but likely has no sort of a life back home. When Alex asks him about his relationships with girls, we already know that he has probably never been with one. He probably thought about it, but decided to work on his collection instead. Eugene Lutz is hilarious one moment and heartbreaking the next as Alex, the Ukrainian native who uses 'premium' as his adjective of choice for the entire film. My favorite performance in the film, however, came from the under-spoken Boris Leskin as Grandfather. This actor is absolutely phenomenal. He speaks volumes with his eyes, more so than I have seen in a long while. Just watch him as they visit the house in the sunflowers - watch every single frame with him in it. Pay close attention to his facial expressions. This is a fully engrossed performance. And, the dog. Casting an animal must be difficult, but they certainly found the perfect one for Sammy Davis Junior Junior, who really is one of the four main characters in the film. By the end of the film, we care just as much about the dog as we do any of the other characters. There's nothing wrong with that.

Sadly, "Everything Is Illuminated" is going to be one of those films that is probably overlooked by the Academy come awards time. I dare any of them to find me a film as visually creative and as visually stunning as this film. "Everything Is Illuminated" is so unique and so different in that it takes the general idea of the Jewish suffering during the Holocaust, but only focuses on one small aspect of it, instead of the idea as a whole. That is not something that most directors attempt to do. Liev Scheiber has a bright future ahead of him, as a director, and I cannot wait to see what idea he tackles next. "Everything Is Illuminated" ends on a tragic note, but it still allows us to leave the theatre with smiles on our faces. Tragedy is not always a bad thing, especially when the end result of that tragedy is happiness for the person who caused it in the first place. Maybe the idea of the film was that we are all looking for our own Trachimbrod. Maybe the idea was that we should all appreciate the past more thoroughly. Maybe the idea was that we can't really have a meaningful future until we do get in touch with our past. I like the last one. That one works for me.

Ross #1: Ross - added December 3, 2005 at 1:30pm
I really really really want to see this film. It looks great. btw, the character who plays Alex is Eugene Hutz. He's the frontman for the band Gogol Bordello.
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