Starring: Elijah Wood, Eugene Hutz, Boris Leskin.
Passion projects from actors seldom pan out the way they’d desire, drive and determination to see a project come to the screen does not always yield rewarding results. Sometimes however, their works of dogged determination do produce something of note.
A young man collects memories in the most mundane of items which he keeps in ziplock bags. He uses these memories to map out his family tree but there has always been one elusive member that he knows little about, his late grandfather. Wanting to learn more, he travels to the Ukraine to search for the village in which his grandfather lived during the war, joined by a guide with a love of Kangol and a slender grasp of the English language, his guides blind, seemingly anti-Semitic grandfather and his grandfathers “seeing eye bitch” Sammy Davis Jr Jr.
Adapted from the novel of the same name by Jonathan Safran Foer, Everything Is Illuminated was the directorial debut of actor Leiv Schreiber who also wrote the fantastic screenplay too. For a directorial debut, it is startlingly self-assured and confident in it’s delivery, the script is funny, heartbreaking and very tightly delivered and the performances Schreiber gets from his cast are excellent, particularly that of Eugene Hutz as Alex, more commonly recognised as the frontman of gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello. Hutz is excellent in this film providing much of its humour due to his characters rather slender grasp of the English language, he succeeds in giving a performance with real heart. Romanian actor Boris Leskin delivers a weathered performance dripping with humour, anger and pathos that can not fail to impress. Elijah Woods collector, based on author Foer, is played out with a measured mixture of quiet thoughtfulness and at times, exasperated incredulity to being a stranger in a strange land, struggling to feel comfortable in his own skin let alone the Ukraine. An odd and awkward character given likability by Wood to counteract his out-there approach to learning his ancestry.
Everything Is Illuminated is a slightly peculiar, offbeat affair with a strong message of staying rooted to and not forgetting our past. As so often the case, it can define and enrich our lives, particularly if we feel we don’t belong due to our own idiosyncratic view of the world. It’s at times very funny, at times heartbreaking but eminently watchable for its duration.