Film: Everything is Illuminated


Cast includes: Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings), Eugene Hutz (This is his first film. He’s the front man for Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band), Boris Leskin (Men in Black)
Director: Liev Schreiber (Defiance)
Novel: Jonathan Safran Foer
Genre: Quirky drama/comedy (2005)

In brief: Alex is the English translator for his family’s one-car tour company based in Odessa, Ukraine. In “fluid” English, Alex tells us the story of Jonathan S. Foer, who comes to Ukraine to do a “rigid” search for the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Alex confesses to us that before meeting Jonathan, he was “having the impression that all Jewish people were having shit between their brains.” The tour group is completed by the driver, Grandfather, who thinks he’s blind… and his deranged seeing-eye dog, named Sammy Davis jr. jr.. On second thought, bringing a dog on tour might not seem totally professional, so Alex makes Sammy Davis jr. jr. an official uniform… an old T-shirt with “Official Seeing-Eye Bitch” written on the side.

After introductions at the train station, Jonathan is told to get in the back seat. Jonathan looks at the dog sitting in the back. The dog snarls at Jonathan. “It’s impossible. I’m deathly afraid of dogs.” Alex explains this to Grandfather. Grandfather yells and curses. After some back and forth, the issue is settled by Grandfather, “The Jew and the bitch ride in the back!” And they’re off….

The novel, Everything is Illuminated, by Jonathan Safran Foer (same name as the main character) took the literary world by storm. Its wacky originality in combination with the wonderfully crafted story seemed beyond the capabilities of a 24-year-old, first-time novelist. If you read the book, you will wonder how anyone could make a movie out of it. The book is a complex multilayered narrative. Well, the movie only captures a fraction of the book’s content. But surprisingly, the film works. By the end, our four travelers (including Sammy Davis jr. jr.) are all profoundly affected by Jonathan’s “rigid” search.

If you enjoy wacky, offbeat Eastern European humor, you’ll love this one. Although, in the interest of balance, the film is not all laughs. Ukraine was the scene of hundreds of thousands of brutal murders, thanks both to the Nazis and to Stalin. The country was almost totally cleansed of Jews, and anti-Semitisms is almost as prevalent now as it was before WWII. And this is part of what is illuminated as the search progresses and as Alex fearlessly and brutally trashes English language.

popcorn rating

4 popped kernels

Popped kernels for an excellent rendition of an excellent novel. It doesn't exactly match the book, but that would be impossible. It's has wonderful characters, an excellent story and it has historic interst. I need another kernel for originality.

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