Everything Is Illuminated
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir-scr Liev Schreiber
with Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin, Laryssa Lauret, Jana Hrabetova, Stepan Samudovsky, Oleksandr Choroshko, Gil Kazimirov, Tereza Veselkova, Lukas Kral, Vera Sindelarova, Jonathan Safran Foer
release US 16.Sep.05,
UK 25.Nov.05
05/US Warner 1h46

On the road again: Hutz, Wood and Leskin

wood schreiber

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Everything Is Illuminated We can tell that debut writer-director Schreiber clearly adores Foer's novel, since he adapts it with such loving care. The problem is that it's far too earnest for its own good, even though the film looks amazing and the story can't help but carry a strong punch.

Jonathan Safran Foer (Wood) is a collector of little reminders of everything that happens to him. When his grandmother (Hrabetova) dies, she leaves him an ancient photo of his grandfather and some woman in a field in the Ukraine, so off he goes to find out the story. He hires the local tour guide Alex (Hutz) and his "blind" grandfather (Leskin) to drive him in search of his history. It's all linked, of course, to Jonathan's Jewishness and the Nazi invasion during World War II. But no one is quite prepared for what they find.

The story is told as a series of screwball adventures as this oddball trio (plus their dog Sammy Davis Jr Jr) takes a slightly surreal road trip through the Ukrainian countryside. Schreiber films this gorgeously, with style and energy that capture the landscapes and the culture and perhaps add rather too much quirkiness. It's that odd combination of deranged characters and wacky situations that keeps the viewer at arm's length, which is fine for a straight comedy, but kind of undermines a film with such serious pretensions as this.

While Wood's performance is intensely internalised and emotional, Hutz and Leskin provide the energy and hilarity. Wood looks almost like a porcelain doll--slicked hair, smooth skin, puppy-dog eyes magnified by intensely strong glasses. Hutz, meanwhile, is a wiry America-obsessed breath of comical fresh air, keeping us chuckling with his askew English vocabulary and wry observations. He even gets a few serious moments, as does Leskin, who's otherwise engagingly gruff and cranky.

The central theme here is how acknowledging the truth of history illuminated the present. This is a wonderful idea, and the story explores it inventively, but the film is just too cute and stylised to really work. Matthew Libatique's cinematography is breathtaking, but lacks the gritty edge that would make the story and emotions feel authentic; it's more like a reverential fable, especially as it drifts into sweeping sentimentality.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 3.Oct.05

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Everything Is Illuminated Lina M Lowry, Brooklyn, New York: 5/5 "DVDs are wonderful! I was able to view this film several times; something no longer allowed at the movies despite their priciness. It says something important that I wanted to re-view it. I needed more time to read the subtitles. I needed to digest that it was more than just another memoir of the holocaust. I needed to follow each of the characters' discrete stories and put them together as a whole. I liked it." (21.May.06)
2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall