EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED directed by Liev Shreiber (USA, 2005)

illuminatedThe flaws in this movie mirror those of Jonathan Safran Foer’s debut novel which, broadly speaking, can be attributed to over ambitiousness.

This was my second viewing of the film. The first time I had higher expectations having just read and enjoyed the novel. This time round I was able to appreciate its many strengths and accept its weaknesses.

The punk rock meets Ukrainian folk music makes for a brilliant soundtrack and it is beautifully filmed to accentuate the eccentricity of the story, setting and characters.  As in the novel, the first half of the story works spectacularly with many laugh out loud moments. The scene of Jonathan trying to order a vegetarian meal being one of the highlights.

Alex searches for Jonfan

Alex searches for Jonfan

Eugene Hutz of Gogol Bordello fame is inspired casting as Alex and steals the show. He is employed as the official translator to the nerdy American Jew, Jonathan (Elijah Wood) whose obsessive collecting of objects and artifacts from his family’s past lead him on a quest for a woman photographed with his late grandfather in a village called Trachimbrod.

Alex’s idiosyncratic grasp of the English language is hilarious, using words like ‘proximate‘ for ‘close’ and boasting how many women want “to be carnal” with him on account of his snappy dressing and “premium” dance skills.

Sammy Davis Jr Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr Jr.

Sammy Davis Jr Jr , his grandfather’s official seeing eye guide dog, is the other star. Having been “retrieved from the home for forgetful dogs” he wears a vest identifying him as an “officious seeing eye bitch”. (This despite the fact that his owner isn’t even blind!).

The movie boldly attempts to blend this kind of surreal comedy with a poignant drama centring on the desperate plight of the Jews in Ukraine in WWII. There is no real disgrace in the fact that these two strands don’t fit well together and this imbalance doesn’t detract from the film’s entertainment value.

The “rigid search” is initially ridiculed as a useless exercise but eventually proves that while the past can never be changed it can still shed light on the present.

As Alex writes in a letter to ‘Jonfan’ after his return to America:  “I have reflected many times upon our rigid search. It has shown me that everything is illuminated in the light of the past. It is always along the side of us, on the inside looking out. . . . Like you say: inside-out.”