Transforming Jonathan Safron Foer’s heartwarming novel “Everything is Illuminated” to the big screen, actor Liev Schreiber’s (“A Walk on the Moon”) second film as director, ventures into the journey of a young Jewish American, Jonathan (Elijah Wood), who searches for the woman who saved his grandfather’s life during World War II. Jonathan travels to the Ukraine to find a part of his grandfather’s past and is escorted around the country by a young man, Alex (Eugene Hutz) and his grandfather (Boris Leskin, “Men in Black,”).
The relationship between the three main characters anchors the film. Alex’s grandfather speaks no English, requiring the company of his grandson, a hip hop-loving teenager whose commentary and mannerisms juxtaposed with Jonathan’s poker-faced silence prove to be comedic gold.
Jonathan, a collector of trinkets that symbolize events in his family members’ lives, gathers random objects in Ziploc bags A– such as a potato fallen off the restaurant table and his deceased grandmother’s denturesA-. His sentimental hobby provides insight to his character.
As the three men drive deeper into the back country of the Ukraine, the story delves further into Alex’s psyche. While helping Jonathan complete his history, Alex makes his own discovery about the existing problems his politically torn country still faces as well as his family’s hidden past.
Shades of the Holocaust paint Jonathan’s journey and the rest of the characters. Flashbacks of the war haunt Alex’s grandfather, but the man keeps his feelings to himself. The ambiguous memories highlight the real pain of the war eloquently.
Ultimately the movie is a funny, yet poignant tale of self-discovery. Charming characters translate the past to into emotions that are genuine on screen.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars