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On very rare occasions, it's a good idea not to follow the book.
Jonathan Safran Foer's cult novel "Everything Is Illuminated" has a wild chronology, and the journey is sprinkled with magical realism and countless flashbacks to minor characters. It COULD be crammed into a film, but it would not be a very accessible one. In fact, it might be almost unwatchable.
Enter actor Liev Schreiber, who chopped out much of the backstory and focused on the "road movie in the Ukraine" storyline. No, it's not like the book. But taken on its own, "Everything Is Illuminated" is a a striking, humorous and poignant film. Schreiber should be proud.
Jonathan (Elijah Wood) has a funny fixation about remembering the past, which includes putting life souvenirs in plastic baggies and taping them to the wall. So his curiosity is piqued when his grandmother tells him of Augustina, a woman who rescued his grandfather during World War II. With only a ring and a photo to guide him, Jonathan travels to the Ukraine to find Augustine.
He's met at the station by Alex (Eugene Hutz), a hip-hop tour guide who speaks his own peculiar dialect, Alex's weird, melancholy grandad (Stephen Samudovsky), and grandad's "seeing eye b*tch." As they search the Ukraine for Augustine, if she is still alive, Jonathan begins to learn about the ways the past infringes on the present -- and a bit about himself as well.
Schreiber apparently decided to adapt "Everything Is Illuminated" when he began to chronicle his own family history, and discovered that it was strikingly similar to Foer's novel. For a beloved cult novel, editing and reshaping is a risky business. But in Schreiber's case, it becomes a whole different animal -- it retains the spirit of the original, if not the sense of history.
While this is Liev Schreiber's directorial debut, it doesn't feel like one. Instead, it feels polished and experienced, with beautiful cinematography that ranges from night skies to a field of dazzling sunflowers. In sepia-toned flashbacks, Schreiber follows the less-is-more rule by merely hinting at the Holocaust's horrors, which is, oddly enough, more effective.
And his script has pathos and anguish, but also plenty of humour (most of it provided by Hutz), such as the scene where he tries to figure out what a vegetarian is, prompting Wood to tell him firmly "Nothing! No meat!"... only to have both men ask what's wrong with him. The only problem is that at times the road-trip format gets a bit precious, and the storyline stalls once or twice.
Elijah Wood gives a remarkably subtle performance as a quiet, slightly neurotic young man who seems to be searching for something in the past to make him complete. Hutz balances him out with the colourful, slightly wonky Alex. He's both comic relief and a sort of wiser older brother for Jonathan. The plot revolves around these two, and they are balanced out well.
Okay, it's not the book. But then again, it really doesn't pretend to be. Instead, Liev Schreiber's "Everything Is Illuminated" is a bittersweet comedy that will leave you with a smile.
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on 27 May 2006
This was truly a hidden gem! Visually stunning, a beautiful touching story and some wonderful acting. Ukranian born Eugene Hutz was an excellent choice to play Alex, the "tour guide" of this movie. 33 year-old Hutz's only prior film credits were a movie "short" and a documentary in 2004 (he is better known as the singer, lyricist and visionary of the acclaimed gypsy punk rock band 'Gogol Bordello'). This comedy/drama will keep you fascinated for the entire 105 minutes. The deleted scenes are also very enjoyable but would have been a bit "overboard" on the comedic side. Elijah Wood is very good as the solemn, google-eyed American who embarks on this journey through the beautiful Ukranian country side along with Alex, Alex's Grandfather & their dog "Sammy Davis Jr. Jr.". As U.S. critics "Ebert & Roeper" reported on this movie, "Two Thumbs Up" (Roger Ebert gave it 3.5 out of 4 stars).

This movie begins in goofiness and ends in silence and memory. One of the best movies of the past year.
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On the rarest of occasions, a movie comes along that reminds us all that cinema, in its purest form, is an art form, a means to express truth and beauty in the most affecting of ways. Everything is Illuminated is one of these rare films. It truly is, as has already been said, a metaphysical journey, one that takes the viewer all the way to the very heart of humanity, evoking both its darkest and lightest aspects along the way.

As much as I loved this film, I have no doubts whatsoever that some viewers will find it exceedingly boring. This is a slow, introspective film that unwinds itself slowly onto the viewer's psyche, replete with long dramatic pauses and what I would call deep internal acting. In other words, a close-up on a character's face can sometimes be more revealing than an extended piece of dialogue. I imagine that some will also leave the film feeling as if everything wasn't quite illuminated for them. It would have been a mistake for the scriptwriter to come right out and explain the meaning of everything, though. True illumination can only come from within. In addition to that, the emotional reverberations set off by this story would have been stilled by a direct disclosure of its secrets, thereby robbing the film of its greatest strength.

Everything is Illuminated could have been less quirky, though - I'll give you that one. In a way, though, the quirkiness only makes the film more memorable and endearing. Early on, in particular, it's hard to tell if Elijah Wood's acting is brilliant or awful, as his character is essentially a human automaton with an immovably emotionless face. Attired in his somber suit of black, he doesn't exactly fit in with the rural Ukrainian population. His character, Jonathan, has come to the Ukraine in order to learn more about his grandfather and the woman who helped him escape to the West during World War II. Jonathan is a collector, an anal-retentive packrat who collects all manner of things about people and places - but he has only two items connected to his grandfather.

Strangely enough, the film gradually becomes less about Jonathan and more about his tour guides, Alex (Eugene Hutz) and Alex's grumpy grandfather. Along with the family's temperamental pet dog Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr. (named after Grandfather's favorite singer - and played wonderfully by canine actors Mikki and Mouse), this disparate group of individuals cram themselves into a small car and set off across the Ukrainian countryside in search of a town no one seems to have heard of before. Many discoveries are to be made on this trip, as the past reasserts itself in some really heart-breaking ways. That's all I'm going to say about the plot - just trust me when I say it is astonishingly deep and emotionally powerful.

Don't get the idea that this is some exceedingly morose film because it does have a number of lighter moments, most of them provided by Alex and his unique translation skills. The musical score is also a joy to hear, with its delightful mix of Eastern European styles and sounds. There is no more plaintive or soulful music in the world, and it serves as a powerful complement to the story playing out on screen.

In my opinion, Everything is Illuminated is a brilliant film, one of the best I've seen in some time. Give this movie a chance, and it will touch your heart in ways you may never have experienced before. Hats off to director Liev Schreiber for bringing such a beautiful, touching film to cinematic life.
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on 6 December 2006
I rented this film because I'd heard some good things about it, not really expecting much. I found extremely moving at times - I was in tears for the last 30 minutes or so (it is after all about a Jewish man going to the Ukraine and trying to find the woman who saved the life of his grandfather from the Nazis).

So don't rent this expecting to see just another quirky indie flick, its much more than that - watch this film with an open mind. This film is funny, sad and heartwarming at the same time. It is well acted and well cast and some of the scenery is breathtaking. I would not hesitate to recommend this film to those who wish to find a little illumination in their own lives.

I am now going to buy a copy of this to keep in my own collection.
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on 15 November 2006
I hired this and when it came I wasn't particularly looking forward to watching it. However, nothing on the TV so I put it on. I thought it was gonna be 'Being John Malkovich' weird. It is a little quirky but that is only because a character is quirky. But I have to say:


It is funny and heartwarming. It has superb characters who interact just perfectly.

You must must watch this film. I watched it again within the same week. Something I never do. It is great great great.
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on 14 January 2007
There are a lot of people who claim that in order to fully appreciate a literary adaptation, you have to have read the source material before you see the film on which it is based. I don't ascribe to this theory and if you want a good reason why, look no further than the hideous treatment of Saruman in the cinema release of the Return of the King, and he did not fare much better in the fan boy pleasing extended edition, if I had never read the book, this would not have rankled so much.

Never having read the book on which Liev Schriebers directorial debut is based, I came to this film with no preconceptions at all, and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised as a result. Taking the story of one mans search for his roots as its basis, this is a movie that is both funny and moving as it deals with the much covered subject of roots and genocide in a decidedly new fashion. Elijah Wood plays the central character of Jonathan Safran Foer, a young man who is compulsively driven to collect mementos about his Jewish family, so that he never forgets them. When his grandfather dies, Jonathan finds a photograph of his grandfather as a young man in the company of a mystery woman, the woman who apparently saved his grandfathers life during World War 2. So Jonathan, in search of the truth, sets of for his grandfather's homeland of the Ukraine. Here he meets his guide for the journey, a Western obsessed culture vulture named Alex (played with hilarious conviction by Eugene Hutz), and his driver, Alex's grandfather, who has his own reasons for wanting to help Jonathan.

Initially coming across as just another culture clash comedy, albeit a very funny one, the film manages to be something more than what it initially appears to be, cramming in such as subplots as anti-Semitism, understanding and forgiveness around its broad central theme. As the mismatched trio move closer to their final destination (which comes as a surprise when it is finally revealed), accompanied by Alex's grandfathers dog, the strangely named Sammy Davis Junior Junior, they begin to understand each other and appreciate each other as well, particularly Alex and Jonathan, who strike up a strange friendship. The three leads are very good, with Elijah Wood playing Jonathan as a nervous man who is afraid of what life will throw at him next and Boris Leskin as the cursing moody grandfather who has a secret that he can no longer hide. But it is Eugene Hutz as Alex who is the real star of the film. As Jonathans English mangling guide, he portrays Alex as a man who is almost the polar opposite of Jonathan, happy to take what life throws at him and tackle it head on.

This is an assured and enjoyable directorial debut from Schrieber, who although he occasionally allows the film to loose its focus, particularly in the central section, has crafted an enjoyable and highly watchable movie with an ear for the earthy and an eye for the absurd.
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on 2 January 2016
This is on the syllabus for a course I'm doing on Coursera on the Holocaust. I was pleasantly surprised, it's an engaging story and held my attention, I enjoyed the characters and the way that the storyline developed. It had some surprises. It has enhanced my understanding of the way that history continues to affect the current generations. Now, I have to read the book! My reading list is growing! :)
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on 3 January 2016
This film has a rhythm akin to its story, floating and intense, its brown hues conveying the past and soul searching that take place. Quirky, with witty dialogs, yet ultimately tragic, relayed by the melancholic music, this film is truly out-of-the-ordinary. It is therefore all the most regrettable that its weak and puzzling ending feels in complete disharmony with the rest of the film.
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on 16 December 2013
My boyfriend was spinning about this movie for some time, so I bought it as a little surprise. It is very nice movie, about the American man coming to Ukraine to search for his ancestors, made me lough so many times, even so it is sad movie.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 July 2016
Starting out like a quirky comedy about a clash of cultures, the film follows Jonathan researching his family history in Ukraine. He is a quiet, obsessive collector of family artefacts and in particular hopes to track down the woman in a photograph who his grandmother credits with saving his grandfather during the war. He is helped in his search by Alex whose family business has been guiding "rich American Jews" through their history for three generations.

The early scenes are narrated by Alex for comic affect, observing the oddness of Americans wanting to look into the past while he is a forward looking, trackie and trainers wearing man about town, in the style of a modern day Tony Manero. The filming uses his comments and incidental shots of Ukraine containing traditional weddings and McDonalds drive-thrus to show the difference between the American expectation of a sepia past and the modern reality.

The humour belies the darker territory the film is going into and effectively portrays attitudes of anti-Semitism, sometimes with comments, sometimes with just a look. The humour becomes more bitter-sweet as the journey continues. There are scenes portraying the aftermath of the Nazi invasion of Jonathan's family's village. Here the photography is more restrained but nevertheless has impact. The showing rather than telling is poignant.

Interesting and original.
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