Directed by Liev Schreiber, starring Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin and Laryssa Lauret.
Based on Jonathan Safran Foer's novel of the same name, ‘Everything is Illuminated' is the story of a young American's quest to find the woman who saved his grandfather's life during World War Two. He travels to the Ukraine, the place where he believes he can piece together his family's story.
Jonathan Safran Foer (Wood) is a Jewish American trying to write a book about the place where his grandfather's history began. He is also a great collector, a collector of random items - false teeth, soil, maps, stones, food - items that will help him remember people, places and times.
He has arranged for a translator in the Ukraine to help him find the village of Trachimbrod, which was wiped off the map by the Nazis. Trachimbrod, Jonathan believes, holds some answers.
The Ukrainians think Jonathan is strange, but he meets his equal in the form of his translator, Alex (Hutz), whose English is far from proficient. Their driver is Alex's grandfather (Leskin), who believes he is blind and is accompanied by Sammy Davis Junior, Junior AKA the "official seeing-eye bitch", a border collie dog who goes everywhere with his owner.
A black-and-white photo of his grandfather with a mysterious woman, a ring and the name 'Trachimbrod' are the clues that Jonathan works from. The four - collector, translator, driver and "official seeing-eye bitch" – cram into a 60-year-old Trabant and slowly set off for somewhere.
There are little clues of Trachimbrod along the way and only vague directions from locals ("past the corn fields"). But Alex's grandfather, who is at first slow to help the young, crazy, vegetarian American, recognises his goodness and desperation and leads him (back) in the direction of Trachimbrod.
Planted in a huge sea of sunflowers, they find Lista's (Laryssa) house, Trachimbrod. Finding Trachimbrod and Lista are just the first revelations for Jonathan and soon everything is illuminated, everything becomes clear.
This is a road trip movie that sees a seemingly hopeless journey turn into a huge eye-opener for all, leading to a new connection and understanding. From the outset, there's a huge energy, aided by a wonderful and hilarious script, partly written in Russian, partly English, back-to-back music tracks and eccentric if not authentic characters. Initially grabbed by the humour, the energy and the quirky characters, you are dragged into their emotional times.
Elijah Wood was cast for his eyes, actor-turned-director Liev Schreiber wanting him to be the literal and figurative eyes of the movie, emphasised by his binocular glasses. And he is strange and wonderfully awkward in a strange land. The Ukrainian-born Eugene Hutz, who learned most of his English from Johnny Cash songs, adds authenticity to the character of Alex. Nothing is lost in translation in this film, but the translation opens the way for some amazing and misunderstandings. Here, language and linguistics convey humour – "Did you manage to repose?", "It is premier". There are plenty of memorable scenes, in particular the one where Jonathan informs Alex that their demented dog is called after a Jewish entertainer or where Jonathan tells them of his diet.
'Everything is Illuminated' is a gem of a film. It's moving, humorous and a feat for first-time director Schreiber, who keeps it simple and beautiful.
As Alex would say, this movie is "premier". And it really is.